Prince of Collectors, a Medici Exhibition at Pitti

Until Sun., January 28: LEOPOLDO DE’MEDICI, PRINCE OF COLLECTORS. Palazzo Pitti. Open 8:15 am – 6:50 pm, closed Monday. Admission: €13.

The Leopoldo de’ Medici exhibition details the Italian cardinal’s role as a great patron of the arts, while also demonstrating his dedication to intellectual and worldly pursuits. A vast collection of treasures from different time periods and locations, the special exhibition reveals the Prince’s extensive passion for painting, sculpture, science, and other cultures.

Born into the prestigious Medici family in 1617, Leopoldo was immersed into a rich artistic culture since birth. His love for the fine arts developed as he matured, ultimately evolving an interest for collecting. Utilizing agents from all over Italy, Leopoldo was able to amass a large number of works from ancient Egypt to renowned artists of the Renaissance.

Leopoldo’s true passion was his search for Classical art to add to his private collection. Centered in a large room is the Cardinal’s source of pride, the Venus Celestis. Carved from bright, white marble, the sculpture appears to be luminous. Admired by Leopoldo and people throughout history, the Roman sculpture from the first half of the second century A.D. is a magnificent example of an artist’s mastery of excellence.

A marble bust of the great emperor Trajan is included in the Roman works, and fully conveys the power of the historical ruler.

Bronze oil lamps included in the inventory, are other examples of significant Roman and Paleochristian art; one lamp depicts scenes of Greek mythological figures (Roman) and the other shows saints Peter and Paul guiding a vessel safely through the rough sea, a metaphor of how they will guide the church (Paleochristian). Martino Pasqualigo’s polychrome wax Leda and the Swan (16th century), a secular work favored by the Prince, evidences Leoopoldo’s good eye and appreciation for quality pieces.

Small Etruscan votive objects (400 – 200 B.C) from an Etruscan workshop and rare miniature figures from Egypt (700 – 100 B.C) all represent his great affection towards pieces of art from other ancient civilizations.

Venetian masterpieces by Titian and other painters cover the wall of a room in the presentation, and exhibit the unique qualities of non-Florentine art. Large displays of antique coins from ancient Rome show the profiles of historical emperors, and Leopoldo’s committed involvement to the field of numismatics. Second only to his vast volumes of his drawings, it is one of the most extensive features in his collection.

Not only a patron of the arts, Leopoldo de’ Medici was devoted to creating his own designs. On display are examples of his personal sketches, highlights from his wide collection of drawings. Most works reflect the topic of certain poems, while others are simply doodles in the moment, some of which visions of landscapes and portraits captured in ink with a fluid hand.

Leopoldo was also fond of scientific discoveries during the 16th and 17th century. In his collection is a brass Jovilabe, invented and used by famed scientist Galileo to determine orbital periods of Jupiter’s moon. Displayed along other scientific instruments, like a sundial from a German workshop and phials from Florence, these objects inform the visitor of Leopoldo’s quest for logical understanding of the world around him.

Methodical writings of scientific scholars reveal the cardinal’s enthusiasm for nature. A canvas painting of a landscape with animals, insects, and other creatures found outside, richly detail his interest in the curiosities of the natural world.

At a time when the world was growing closer through discovery and travel, exotic works of art were crossing borders into foreign lands. Leopoldo appreciated the beauty of these pieces, and included many in his acclaimed collection. From an Indonesian workshop, the display contains a dagger with an ivory handle in the shape of a figure depicting an idol.

Known as a Kris, the weapon was used in many southern Asian countries, but found its way to Florence. Rare items, like the green travertine mask from Teotihuacan, Mexico, and a carved jade belt buckle from the Ming Dynasty (China) also demonstrate Leopoldo’s curiosity about intricate objects from faraway cultures.

Pieces from the early Renaissance are also part of Leopoldo’s inventory. Famed glazed terracotta piece, The Madonna of the Rosebush (1460-1470) by Luca della Robbia, was appreciated by the Prince and included in his private collection because of its naturalistic setting that shows Mary as a loving mother holding her child.

Works by contemporaries such as Girolamo Genga and his Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (early 16th century) and ivory sculptures by Johann Balthasar Stockamer are also on display, with Justice and Peace (1664-1665) as Stockamer’s most outstanding piece. Intricately carved weapons and tools from southern Germany show how Leopoldo was not only interested in typical art, but also ornately crafted arms that present intricate designs.

A passionate supporter of the arts, Leopoldo was dedicated to celebrating the genius minds behind the creations. By avidly collecting self-portraits of painters, he tried to capture the memory and history of the artists. Self-portraits of Federico Barocci, Annibale Carracci, Luca Giordano, Rembrandt, Pietro da Cortona, and a copy of Albrecht Dürer’s were assembled by the Cardinal to honor their legacy, and are currently on display.


It is the notable paintings of master Renaissance artists, Filippino Lippi, Andrea del Verocchio, Tiziano, Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, Rubens, Veronese and Lorenzo Lotto that steal the limelight in the exhibition.

Paintings of Pietro Leopoldo as an infant by court artists, such as Giusto Suttermans, are displayed throughout, and manage to unite the whole retrospective as a homage to his impassioned interests.

After his death in 1675, the works and artifacts distributed to the Uffizi and other galleries. Visiting the exhibition reveals the Cardinal’s arduous search for the ultimate collection. (with reporting by karen gee)