Amid Medici Splendour: Pope Leo X and Florence

Amid Medici Splendour: Pope Leo X and Florence

EXHIBITION AT THE MEDICI CHAPELS, from March 25 to October 10 2013 (Florence)

The Museo delle Cappelle Medicee is celebrating the figure of Pope Leo X, the first Medici pope, five hundred years after his election to the Holy See. Taking a Florentine’s eye view, the exhibition tracks the life of Giovanni, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s second son, from his birth in Florence in 1475 up to 9 March 1513 when he was elected to the papacy, and to his brief return home in 1515. The first sections of the exhibition are devoted to the future pope’s education and upbringing. Growing up in the rarefied environment of his father’s sophisticated Humanist entourage, Giovanni was educated by the leading scholars of the day and came into contact with the greatest artists of the time, including the young Michelangelo. Elected cardinal at an early age, Giovanni suffered the dramatic fate of the rest of his family when in 1494 they were exiled from Florence, where they were only able to return in 1512. This part of the exhibition is illustrated with works by Botticelli, Andrea Sansovino, Granacci, Ghirlandaio and Perugino.

The second section of the exhibition retraces these events through Florence’s artistic production, setting it against the life of the young cardinal and highlighting his interests and pursuits which were to come to fruition when he was elected to the papacy. He took the name of Leo not only to commemorate some of his more eminent predecessors but also to evoke the lion (Marzocco) that was the symbol of Florence.

The third section is devoted to Leo X’s papacy and to the impact that that papacy had on the city. His years on the papal throne were hailed as a new “golden age” in which the capital of Christendom was given a new lease of life thanks to the work not only of artists but also of the poets and Humanists who revived the tenets of the Classical world. These were the years in which work began, or continued, on some of the papal capital’s most important building projects, including the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica, while Raphael continued to dazzle the court with his achievements in the field of painting. Portraits of the pope, his coats of arms and his symbols are to be displayed alongside a selection of his projects for Rome. The section also contains work by Raphael, Bugiardini, Della Robbia and Giuliano da Sangallo, while special attention is also devoted to the “Lutheran question”.

While Raphael was busy putting his stamp on Leo’s Rome, the presence of a Medici on the throne of St. Peter drew a large number of Florentines to the city, including artists whose hopes of a papal commission were fired by the city’s unique climate of munificence and splendour. Yet it was with Leo X’s visit to Florence on 30 November 1515 that these artists eventually got their opportunity to celebrate his election to the papacy. The pope entered the city following a route adorned with numerous temporary structures erected by the city’s leading artists in symbolic sites along the way. The pope’s entourage, which included his cousin Giulio de’ Medici (the future Pope Clement VII), the complex decorations and the works produced by these painters and sculptors are amply illustrated in the fifth section, where some of the precious artefacts produced in the city to celebrate Leo X’s pontificate are to be displayed.

The complexity of the whole enterprise (as recorded by diarists, rare documents and a handful of items which have come down to us) and the work produced for it by some of the most celebrated artists of the time, including Baldassarre Peruzzi, Rosso Fiorentino and Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, is to be recreated with a selection of their drawings and paintings. Alongside these works, the section also hosts examples of the goldsmith’s art, the illuminated codices and the extremely sophisticated hangings produced in Florence to celebrate the Medici pope’s election.

The last section of the exhibition illustrates the attention that the Medici popes, Leo X and later Clemente VII, devoted to the execution of the architectural projects which their family commissioned in Florence, reviewing the history of the San Lorenzo complex from Michelangelo’s design for the façade of the basilica (which was never actually built) to his project for the Sagrestia Nuova, on which he worked on and off and which he left unfinished when he finally departed for Rome in 1534. Visitors will also be able to admire, for the very first time, the splendid polyhedric shape which Michelangelo chose for the crown of the lantern in the Sagrestia Nuova.