2019: A Year for Catherine & Cosimo de’Medici

Almost as an unintended spin-off of the TV drama series “Medici”—or perhaps a continuation of the saga—this year Florence commemorate two remarkable Florentines on the 500th anniversary of their births.  During the celebrations, 22 institutions in more than 50 events will tell the stories of the two personages who both attained royal status.  Born only a few weeks apart in 1519, Cosimo I de’ Medici and Catherine (Caterina) de’ Medici influenced the Renaissance politically, historically and culturally well beyond Florence city limits. Through skillful persistence, endurance, family and political connections, one became the first Grand Duke of Tuscany and the other the most powerful woman in 16th century Europe.  

Catherine was born on April 13, 1519 in the family palace on Via Larga (via Cavour) now known as Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.  Within a month both of her parents died, and she was shuffled around to family members and a series of convents until, at the age of 14, her uncle Pope Clement VII betrothed her to Prince Henry of France.

Born on June 12, 1519, Cosimo grew up in the Mugello north of Florence and spent his childhood years outdoors hunting, fencing and swimming.  By the age of 17 he showed promise in politics with his ability to consolidate the dominion of the Medici family in Tuscany.

After Catherine’s husband King Henry II was killed in a jousting accident, she became queen, ruling during a period of constant civil and political strife with the Huguenot Protestants rebelling against traditional Catholic France.  Many Italians boast that ‘Caterina’ introduced the fork to the French, along with more refined dining habits.  She supported and expanded the arts, patronizing new artists of the Renaissance, and is still renowned for original and opulent ballet and opera productions which she commissioned. 

Cosimo married Spanish noblewoman Eleonora of Toledo, a political marriage that also proved a love match and resulted in 11 children.  The Grand Duke launched cultural and educational reforms, was a great patron of the arts and asked Giorgio Vasari to build the Uffizi to accommodate the administrative center of his government.  After moving his growing family across the river to the Pitti Palace, he connected the family residence to his offices in Palazzo della Signoria (Palazzo Vecchio) via the Vasari Corridor which allowed the Duke to walk undisturbed from his home to his office. 

Florence of the 21st century contains abundant remembrances of the rule of Cosimo on both sides of the Arno, including the Boboli Gardens, designed for him and Duchess Eleonora.  The vast green expanse, terraced with trees and interspersed with statues and fountains, was to become a model for many European courts. 

Piazza della Signoria contains one of Florence’s most beloved symbols, the Fountain of Neptune, created from one colossal piece of Carrara marble.  Cosimo announced a competition in 1559 for the statuary, won by Bartolomeo Ammannati who sculpted the face to resemble Cosimo’s profile; later, Giambologna and other artists created the bronze nymphs, satyrs and fauns.  The famous fountain has been behind scaffolding for two years with the sea god Neptune on his chariot being laboriously cleaned and restored.  The work, financed by the Florentine fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, now completed with the water function working again, was unveiled by mayor Dario Nardella on March 25, the traditional Florentine New Year’s Day.  Once again, the sculpture Florentines call “Il Biancone” (The White Giant) can be enjoyed by all.

The event marked the kickoff of a series of Medici-themed exhibitions, tours, concerts and events in Florence open to the public centered on these extraordinary Renaissance individuals. 

Through May 21: “TRIBUTE TO CATHERINE.”  Palazzo Medici Riccardi, via Cavour 1.
A display commemorates the bond Catherine de’ Medici had with the family palace, where she was born and lived during her various visits and stays in Florence.  Jacopo Chimenti’s famous painting of her marriage to Henry of France on October 28, 1533, is centerpiece.  Other exhibits include manuscripts and documents on Catherine’s life in Florence. Admission is €10, €7 ages 18-25, free for those under 18. 

During his tenure as Medici Grand Duke, Cosimo, working with architects and urban planners, created a new layout for the growing city of Florence.  This walking tour allows one to retrace, step by step, an itinerary dedicated to Cosimo, beginning at his family residence, through the Medici district, the residences of councilors, the Academy of Arts and Drawing which he founded and on to the Piazza della Signoria, the Uffizi and across the river to the Palazzo Pitti.
 Complimentary tours in Italian will be conducted on the following Sundays: April 28, May 26, September 29, October 27 and November 24.  The meeting point is at Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, via Cavour, 1 at 10 or 11:30 am; reservation required at 055 276.8224 or 055 276.8558 or send an email to info@muse.comune.fi.  Free tickets must be picked up 15 minutes prior at Palazzo Medici-Riccardi box office.
What better way to appreciate the rule of the Grand Duke than to attend a living history performance in the Salone dei Cinquecento?  The grand room that holds reminiscences of the deeds, history, projects and dreams of the young duke who became ruler of Florence at the age of 17.  The great hall of his ducal residence, renovated and decorated according to his wishes, becomes the setting for a live encounter with Cosimo on April 27, May 11, June 12, October 25, November 22 and December 13 at 7 pm.  For prices and reservations, call 055 276.8224 or 055 276.8558 or send an email to info@muse.comune.fi. Tickets must be picked up 30 minutes beforehand at Info Point at Palazzo Vecchio.

June 12:  COSIMO’S NIGHT.  Medici Chapels and the Basilica of San Lorenzo. Piazza San Lorenzo, 9. The New Sacristy opens at 7 pm, the concert starts at 9 pm. 
On the occasion of the Grand Duke’s 500th birthday, the public has the opportunity to visit Michelangelo’s New Sacristy outside normal visiting hours.  For the occasion, brief explanations of the work done for Michelangelo’s project, left unfinished at the time of the artist’s departure to Rome in 1534. The tour will be followed by a staging of a mass written and sung specifically for the duke by the Medici Opera Laurenziana.

June 6 through September 29: “TRIBUTE TO COSIMO.”  Uffizi Galleries.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Cosimo I de’Medici, a triptych of exhibitions has been designed.  Part one, “The Prince’s 100 Lances,” focuses on the Landsknechte, mercenary soldiers who served as the Grand Duke’s personal guard.  Part two features eight tapestries depicting stories of his reign.  The third part unveils “The Peasant and the Barrel,” a recently restored sculpture from the Boboli Gardens.

September 1:  CATHERINE’S FAREWELL TO FLORENCE.  Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.  6 pm.  Admission: €7, under 18 free.

Experience an event evocative of the farewell to Florence the young Caterina organized in the family palace.  The occasion took place in September 1533 and a few hours later the girl left to undertake the journey to Marseilles, where on October 28 her marriage with Henry would be celebrated.  The event will allow the visitor to relive the festive atmosphere and retrace Catherine’s bond with her birthplace. 

October 28:  THE MARRIAGE BANQUET OF CATHERINE DE’MEDICI.  Institut Francais (French Institute), Piazza Ognissanti, 2.  6 pm.  The event is in Italian but tasting can be enjoyed in any language.  For more information and reservations, see website.

The date marks the wedding anniversary of Catherine and Henry of Valois, future king of France.  Guests can discover the dishes that Catherine particularly appreciated and the recipes she brought with her to Paris as a teenage bride. This conference on and tasting of the marriage banquet is organized in collaboration with Frenchwoman Annie Féolde of Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri. The first part will present the wedding dinner: menu, guests and entertainment, followed by a discussion of the authentic recipes.  Participants will be offered samples of some of the dishes prepared for the feast. 

A free app “I Luoghi di Cosimo” featuring the historical and artistic places of the Duke can be downloaded from Ubilia through Google or iTunes with the English version provided through online translation platforms.  (rita kungel)

The complete commemorative program can be found on the following website.