Exhibition: Trésor des Médicis (Maillol museum)

In the relationship between the prince and the arts, the Medici family can be defined as the perfect example. Bankers, lords and patrons of Florence, they supported and financed the greatest artists of the Renaissance, contributing like no other Italian family to the artistic and cultural influence of Italy, until the 18th century. The exhibition offered at Maillol museum from Paris on the Medici treasure is the perfect opportunity to get to know them better, but above all with the artists and works of their time.

The Medici, princes and patrons

The exhibition at the Musée Maillol offers the public the Medici treasure, accumulated thanks to the patronage and taste for collecting that the Florentines practiced for several centuries.

It was especially from Como the Elder (1389-1429) that the policy of support for artists began in Florence, which turned into patronage with his successors, Pierre dit le Goutteux, and especially Laurent the Magnificent (1449-1492). ). Both protect geniuses like Botticelli or the young Michelangelo, and commission works from the greatest architects. The ephemeral return of the Republic at the beginning of the 16th century and the loss of power of the Medici (to which must be added the difficulties of their bank) slowed down the movement, but from the advent of Alexandre de Medici as duke by Charles V ( in 1532), the taste for pomp resumed the dynasty; in addition, the Medici accede to the papal throne, with Leo X (1513-1521) and Clement VII (1523-1534), who also practice patronage. Como I (1519-1574), who became Grand Duke of Tuscany, drives home the point by settling in Palazzo Vecchio and asking Vasari himself for accommodations. This continues with most of his successors.

The Medici clan retained and consolidated its influence over the following centuries thanks to its foreign relations, far from Florence, with a policy of marriages. The best-known examples are obviously Catherine and Marie de Medici, respectively wives of Henri II and Henri IV, kings of France. Their influence also allows the Italian aura to spread in Europe, and obviously especially in France. It was not until the second half of the 17th century, the problems of Italy and the less able princes in Florence (and often more religious) that the Medici lost their luster. Fortunately, the last representative of the dynasty, Anne-Marie-Louise (1667-1743), decides with her “Family Pact” to ensure that all the works of art and treasures collected by the Medici during all these centuries are bequeathed to Florence, "so that they remain at the disposal of all nations". It is thanks to this that the Maillol museum can present this exhibition today.

The "Trésor des Médicis" exhibition

The Maillol museum therefore proposes to discover the “taste of the Medici” through an exhibition constructed in a thematic and somewhat chronological manner (the logic is more understandable in the second part of the museum). The opportunity, through the eyes of the Florentines, to have a panorama of the arts between the 15th and 18th centuries.

We discover in the first part the patronage of Como I and Laurent the Magnificent, and several outstanding works such as “The Adoration of the Magi” by Sandro Botticelli (1476), the portrait of Eleanor of Toledo by Bronzino (which serves as displayed at the exhibition, 1543) or Cellini's "Perseus liberating Andromeda" (1545). We also admire pieces from Antiquity (such as “The Speaker”, or a sumptuous “Horse's Head” from the 4th century BC), proof of the humanism of the Medici from the end of the Middle Ages, and of the Awesome detail cameos. One should not miss either the great tapestry of Bronzino and Rost, “Spring” (1545).

The exhibition continues with the presentation of "exotic" works preserved by the Medici in Florence, traces of the discovery of the New World, such as this mask from Teotihuacan, or from other regions of the world (from Africa to China). A little further on, it is quite moving to discover letters from François Ier, Catherine de Medici or the collection of poems by Laurent the Magnificent.

Upstairs, nicely furnished, we can admire among others the large portraits of Catherine de Medici by Le Mannier and of Marie de Medici by Pourbus, as well as two rooms dedicated to the Medici popes, Leo X and Clement VII, the works the most striking are undoubtedly a sculpture of an “Apollo” (or David?) by Michelangelo in person, and a Raphael (“Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami, known as Fedra Inghirami”)!

The Medici were also lovers of poetry and music, which allows us to discover other rooms to listen to works by Jacopo Peri, such as "Euridice" (1600). Time advances, and the pieces are more and more varied: vases, hard stones, still lifes, up to the art of palaces and gardens illustrated by the painting by Giusto Utens, "View of the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Garden »(1598-1599). You learn about the Florentines' interest in nature and science, with a collection of scientific instruments and impressive wax and bronze skins; we even come across a portrait of Galileo! Goldsmith's work is not to be outdone, especially in the 17th century. The portraits of the Medici became more serious and austere as the dynasty lost its influence and its luster (also influenced by the art of the time). The last rooms, dedicated to Jean-Gaston de Médicis and especially Anne-Marie-Louise are quite moving, like this tiny cradle in gold and pearl (4.9 x 5.5 cm), symbol of the infertility of the Grand Duchess and of the end of the Florentine dynasty.

Rich in nearly 200 works, including those cited but also pieces by Fra Angelico, Del Sarto, Le Primatice or Titien, the “Trésor des Médicis” exhibition is therefore essential, and not only for CAPES candidates working on “ The prince and the arts in France and Italy, 14th-18th century ”. This can be a first step, before the one on “Rubens et Poussin”, or “France 1500” to come…


“Trésor des Médicis” exhibition, from September 29, 2010 to January 31, 2011.

Maillol Museum, 61 avenue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., evenings on Fridays (until 9:30 p.m.). Price: 11 euros (reduced price: 9 euros).

To read

- "Trésor des Médicis", Knowledge of the Arts, special issue 466, September 2010.

- Mr. Sframeli (dir), Medici treasury, exhibition catalog, Skira / Flammarion, 2010.

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