In 1659, the Medici family, now well and truly the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, sold their 1400s Renaissance home in Florence, where they had lived when they were bankers and the unofficial rulers of the Florentine Republic, to the Riccardi family. Understandably, the new owners immediately renovated. Possibly their most spectacular addition to the palazzo was the magnificent gallery they inaugurated in 1689 with a spectacular reception to celebrate their future rulers, Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici and Violante Beatrice of Bavaria’s, marriage. The gallery is a most splendid example of the baroque style in the city. Luca Giordano, one of the artistic stars of the court of Naples, had been called to Florence by the Corsini in the early 1680s to decorate their private chapel in the Carmelite church and the Riccardi took advantage of the artist’s sojourn to commission him the frescoes on the ceiling of their newly built gallery.
This second storey room overlooks the garden and, together with the magnificent ceiling frescoes, the stucco, gilded wood, painted mirrors and the yellow Sienese marble framing the windows, the effect is sumptuous, dazzling and impressive. Here the Riccardi and their guests would gather, socialize and admire the family’s enviable collection of treasures ancient and modern, displayed in velvet-lined cupboards.
The ceiling fresco decoration is complex and, in true baroque form, majestic and bombastic. The four cardinal virtues (fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence), cornerstones of every virtuous man’s life, are in each of the room’s corners and they are trampling on Vices. The shorter wall opposite the entrance is the first scene of the cycle and displays man’s birth in the Cave of Eternity attended by the personifications of Nature, Time and the Three Fates (the three women who control the metaphorical thread of man’s life). Directly opposite is man’s maturity, with Minerva for wisdom and Mercury for reason. Minerva gives a key to Intelligence and a hammer to Artifice. The longer walls show different aspects of life and union: Neptune and Anfitrite on one side and, opposite, Hades and Persephone. In the middle of the ceiling, under Jupiter, are four members of the Medici family depicted in an apeotheosis-type reserved for gods, but used freely in the baroque period for earthly rulers.
The baroque artistic style was the artistic style of the 1600s and it was always on a grand scale – emotional, theatrical and designed to involve the spectator and make them feel part of a big event. The baroque is the opposite to restraint and always embraces as many different media as possible (painting, sculpture, wood carving, fresco, stucco) in big movement (swirls, sweeping curtains, clouds, dramatic drapery) all combined in one space to dazzle. n!
about the writer
FREYA MIDDLETON is a private tour guide and writer who lives in Florence, Tuscany. You can read her blog online or learn more about her tours at www.freyasflorence.com