Piero di Cosimo de' Medici
Piero di Cosimo (the Gouty) de Medici (1416-1469) was the
son o Cosimo de’
Raised in early humanist Florence, he was trained to assume
his father’s civic and cultural leadership.
His artistic tastes were apparently stimulated less by the
aesthetic ideals of Republican Florence, however, than by those manifested in
such north Italian centers of patronage as Ferrara and Venice, where the Medici
lived in exile between 1433 and 1434.
Piero watched over family interests at the Council of Ferrara (1437–1439) and responded
positively to the style of Este court patronage, which he may have sought to emulate (with the wealth of the Medici
bank behind him) in the decorations he commissioned for the new Palazzo Medici in Florence.
His aesthetic preferences may be deduced from such commissions, which contrast with the
large-scale ecclesiastical projects that his father sponsored: typically they show precise, often minute detailing
(as in a bust of Piero by Mino da Fiesole), brilliant and resonating color and rich surface finish.
The best-documented works commissioned by Piero are two small, precious tabernacles built to the
designs of Michelozzoa di Bartolomeo to house miracle-working images: the chapel of the Crucifixion, San Miniato al
Monte, Florence, and the chapel of the Annunciation, SS Annunziata in Florence.
Chapel of the Crucifixion, San Miniato al Monte (left) and Chapel of the Annunciation (left)
In both, high-quality architectural sculpture was carved with intricate richness and variety of
detail in the finest marble. Piero’s preoccupation with heraldry is evident in the inclusion of his personal device
(a falcon holding a diamond ring) on the San Miniato tabernacle and in the glazed terracotta tiles in the white,
green and mauve of his livery that Luca della Robbia provided for its roof.
The barrel vault of Piero’s study in the Palazzo Medici, probably completed by 1456, was also
decorated by Luca della Robbia: the 12 enameled terracotta roundels, the Labours of the Months were set
once more against the background of Piero’s livery colours. The architect Filarete wrote of this vault that ‘it
causes greatest admiration in anyone who enters’; early records also emphasize the richness of the study’s glazed
terracotta floor and of the elaborate intarsia work on the furnishings.
The superbly produced books that lined the shelves had bindings colored according to subject
classification: red for books on history, for example, and green for rhetoric. Filarete described how Piero,
crippled by gout, was carried into his study to feast his eyes on his books or to rejoice in his collections of
Classical gems, coins and other small, highly valued objects.
The two inventories of Piero’s possessions, drawn up in
1456–1458 and after Cosimo de’ Medici’s death in 1464, list numerous domestic
furnishings, now lost or unidentifiable, including French or Flemish
tapestries, silverware, jewelry, tournament apparel and weapons, musical
instruments and also the treasures that Piero kept in his study.
Among the wide-ranging and valuable collection of Classical
gems and cameos was the Daedalus and Icarus, which provided the source
for one of the medallions decorating the courtyard of the Medici palace.
The closely written listings of books show the importance of
Piero’s manuscript commissions, often placed through the agency of the major
cartolaio and biographer of Quattrocento Florence, Vespasiano da
The descriptions indicate special concern for the binding of each manuscript and for the type of
script in which it was written. Most of the books commissioned by Piero survive in the Biblioteca
Medicea–Laurenziana, Florence, and the quality of their production and illuminated decoration warrants the high
values recorded in the inventories. His patronage stimulated the development of a new type of green-tendril
border decoration, evident, for example, in the two-volume Plutarch, which from the early 1460s dominated
Florentine manuscript illumination for the rest of the 15th century.
Letters written by Benozzo Gozzoli indicate that Piero was also responsible for the decoration
of the chapel of the Palazzo Medici, probably completed around 1461. Michelozzo’s architectural articulation of
this small space is again rich in decorative detail and color, and the floor and intarsiated seating are emblazoned
with Medici heraldic devices. Gozzoli’s Journey of the Magifrescoes convincingly blend finely executed
surface details (highly individualized portraits and figure-types, splendid costumes and pattern-book bird and
animal motifs) with deep recession into beautifully observed, atmospheric landscape vistas.
The Journey of the Magi' frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli
The goal of the Magi’s journey, Fra Filippo Lippi’s Adoration of the Magi altarpiece,
shows similar aesthetic emphases. Jewel-like colors, brilliant refinement of surface finish—noticeable in the spray
of golden dots that link together the persons of the Trinity—and a delicate, expressive sentiment are brought
together in this exquisite altarpiece which perhaps quintessentially reflects Piero’s artistic sensibilities.