Lorenzo de’ Medici at Home
The Inventory of the Palazzo Medici in 1492
Edited and translated by Richard Stapleford
Lorenzo de’ Medici at Home
The Inventory of the Palazzo Medici in 1492
Edited and translated by Richard Stapleford
“This translation will be welcomed by teachers and scholars in every corner of the English-speaking world and will provide a useful and, in many ways, inexhaustible resource for many years to come.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
“This translation will be welcomed by teachers and scholars in every corner of the English-speaking world and will provide a useful and, in many ways, inexhaustible resource for many years to come.”
“This book will be of considerable interest to art historians concerned with the social history of art, especially scholars of Lorenzo il Magnifico and his milieu. It will also be invaluable to scholars concerned with clothing and jewelry. In short, it will be a useful addition to the bibliographies of undergraduate and graduate courses in Renaissance art history. The notes are rich and highly instructive.”
“Lorenzo de’ Medici at Home succeeds as a primary source for social, cultural, and Medici research and classroom use while also serving as a pleasurable view into the daily lives of the Florentine elite.”
“This book would make a beneficial addition to university libraries and to the collection of scholars studying the Medici or the Italian Renaissance in general. It will make a wonderful resource for teaching the Renaissance, offering students the chance to engage with the household of one of the greatest families of the period and gain a greater understanding of these particular figures and of everyday life in a Florentine palazzo.”
“Haven’t most of us thought about how interesting it would be to poke through the possessions of a recently deceased rich-and-famous person? If you’re one of those people, as I am, you’ll find this book fascinating.”
Richard Stapleford is Professor of Art History at Hunter College, City University of New York.
List of Illustrations
A Note on Measurements
Lorenzo il Magnifico
The Palace and the Family
Apportionment of the Assets
The Inventory Paraphrased
Book of the Inventory of the Goods of Lorenzo il Magnifico: The Medici Palace
Appendix: Clothing Vocabulary
Lorenzo il Magnifico de’ Medici (fig. 1) was the head of the ruling political party in Florence from 1469 to 1492, a period that marks the apogee of the golden age of quattrocento Florence. Born in 1449, Lorenzo lived a life shaped by privilege and responsibility, and his deeds as a statesman were legendary even while he lived. During his last years he was plagued by gout, the disease that killed his father, and was incapacitated with intense pain and fever, unable to walk or even to ride his horse. In March 1492 he was carried by litter from his palace on the Via Larga to his villa at Careggi, where he died on April 8, at the age of forty-three. In spite of his long illness, Lorenzo’s death was a shock to Florence. The contemporary diarist Luca Landucci, in lamenting the loss, wrote, “This man in the eyes of the world was the most illustrious, the richest, the most stately and the most renowned among men. Everyone declared that he ruled Italy; and in very truth he was possessed of great wisdom and all his undertakings prospered.”1
In his private life, Lorenzo was master of the largest and most famous palace in Florence, a building crammed full of the household goods of four generations of Medici, as well as the most extraordinary collections of art, antiquities, books, jewelry, coins, cameos, and rare vases in private hands. After his death Lorenzo’s heirs made an inventory of the estate, a common undertaking following the demise of an important head of family. An anonymous clerk, pen and ledger in hand, walked through the palace from room to room, describing the furniture, opening cabinets and chests, unfolding and inspecting clothes and fabrics and tapestries, describing the condition of musical instruments, examining elaborate clocks, counting stacks of dishes and piles of swords and other weapons, documenting the paintings and reliefs he saw on the walls, describing cameos, counting coins and medals, and unlocking jewel boxes to weigh gems, brooches, and rings.
The original document he produced has been lost, but in December 1512, before it disappeared, Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, the grandson of Lorenzo il Magnifico, commissioned a copy from the priest Simone di Stagio dalle Pozze. The reason for the copy is clear: the Medici family was returning officially to Florence that year after living in exile since 1494.2 Since the expulsion, the family’s possessions had been dispersed: some were confiscated by the state, others looted by thieves or sequestered by friends, and the remainder sold at auction.3 When the copy was ordered, the process of reclamation had already started, vigorously supported by the new pro-Medici government. In October 1512 Landucci reported that the government had issued a proclamation stating that “whoever had property of the house of Medici was to notify it, on pain of the gallows; and many things were recovered” (emphasis added).4
The heads of the family in 1512 were Lorenzo il Magnifico’s two surviving sons, Giovanni and Giuliano, and their cousin Giulio, all of whom had grown up in the palace. Lorenzo di Piero was younger, having been born the year Lorenzo il Magnifico died, but as Lorenzo’s grandson he was an important heir. Apparently, this copy of the 1492 inventory was made as part of an effort by Lorenzo to establish an inventory of objects owed to him and to his two uncles and cousin in their negotiations with the state over the restoration of the Medici property.5
The document, of which this is my translation, is in the Archivio di Stato in Florence.6 It was transcribed by Marco Spallanzani and Giovanna Gaeta Bertelà in 1992 and published as the Libro d’inventario dei beni di Lorenzo il Magnifico. Previously, the document had been published only in parts, and though the inventory was often referred to in discussions of Renaissance art and material culture, its full extent and depth was known to only a handful of scholars.7
Lorenzo il Magnifico
The historian Francesco Guicciardini wrote in 1510 that as Lorenzo lay dying, Florence was in a state of prosperity and peace, largely owing to his stewardship (see fig. 2 for a contemporary view of the city). “The city was in perfect peace. . . . The people were daily entertained with festivals, spectacles and novelties; the city abounded in everything; trades and businesses were at the height of prosperity. Men of talent found their proper place in the great liberality with which the arts and sciences were promoted and those who practiced them were honored. The city, quiet and peaceful at home, enjoyed high esteem and great consideration abroad, . . . [and] she in some measure kept Italy in equilibrium.”8
Lorenzo’s life coincided with a pivotal period and a pivotal place in the evolution of the modern world. During the quattrocento, secular learning rose to challenge theology on matters of history, philosophy, and even morals. Florentine humanists developed methods for the analysis of art and architecture, history, philosophy, literature, and language that were to unlock the secrets of the vanished civilizations of the past. Florence played an important role in the development of the nation-states that became Europe. Florentine merchants maintained commercial arteries throughout Europe, and Florentine bankers provided the exchange structures essential to international trade.9 Lorenzo was at the center of all of these developments. He was the head of the influential Medici bank and a subtle political manipulator, both within Florence and internationally. He was also a significant poet, a gifted scholar, and the patron of artists, architects, musicians, and philosophers. As such, he seems the embodiment of the Renaissance man. A close reading of the historical record, however, casts a shadow on this picture. Scholars have pointed out Lorenzo’s ethical lapses in monetary dealings, his ineffective oversight of the family bank, his failure to grasp the negative impact of some of his political manipulations, and his moral indiscretions.10 Such observations only seem to stimulate our interest in the man. Who was the true Lorenzo?
Lorenzo’s entry into public life was premature, owing to the illness of his father, Piero (fig. 3), who was all but incapacitated by pain and swelling in his joints caused by gout. Indeed, he was so afflicted that even during his lifetime he had acquired the sobriquet “Gouty” (Piero il Gottoso). By the time Lorenzo was a young teen, his father was no longer able to ride a horse but had to be carried in a litter or sedan chair, and then only on occasions when he absolutely had to travel. One can imagine that the young man’s experience of his father’s decline left him with a vivid sense of the brevity of life. In the mid-1480s, when Lorenzo was in his thirties but already experiencing symptoms of gout, his poetry took a distinct turn toward melancholy and religious piety.11 As it turned out, he was to die at forty-three, ten years younger than his father was when he died.
He was groomed from youth to head the family (see figs. 11 and 12). His entry onto the international stage began in 1465 when, only sixteen years old, he was sent to Milan to be the official Medici representative at the marriage of Ippolita Sforza to Alfonso of Aragon, the son of the king of Naples. That Piero would entrust him with such an important, high-profile mission speaks to his preparation and the skills he had already demonstrated in Florence. His presence in Milan was laden with significance. In addition to serving as the official delegate of his city, reaffirming the political alliance between Milan and Florence, Lorenzo also stood for the Medici family, the living embodiment of the family’s ambitions to elevate themselves from the merchant class to the nobility.12
Lorenzo’s journey to Milan was so successful that in 1466 Piero again sent him on a diplomatic mission, this time to Rome and Naples, where he acted as the ambassador of Florence before Pope Paul II and Ferdinand I, king of Naples.13 At age seventeen Lorenzo was already comfortable in the complex and subtle world of court etiquette and intrigue. His diplomatic skills, honed at that early age, served him well as he guided the fortunes of Florence and of his family for the next twenty-five years. The stakes were high, as demonstrated by a plot in 1466 to ambush and kill Piero as he was returning to the city from his villa at Careggi. Lorenzo, who had preceded his father’s entourage, played a key role in foiling the plot by riding bravely into the ambush while sending a companion back to warn his father to take a different route into the city. Even as a young man he had an intuitive ability to charm and disarm opponents and to know the right moment to act in perilous situations.14
Politics in the quattrocento was a dangerous game. In 1478 a plot to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano was fomented by the aristocratic Pazzi family, who had become their enemies, with the active collusion of Pope Sixtus IV and Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino.15 On Easter Sunday assassins infiltrated the crowd of worshippers in the Duomo and, on a prearranged signal, attacked Lorenzo and Giuliano with swords and knives. Giuliano died of nineteen stab wounds, while Lorenzo was able to deflect the first blow with his cape and fight off the assassins. With the help of two companions, including his friend Angelo Poliziano, who used his body as a shield to protect Lorenzo, he fought his way to safety in the sacristy. There, bleeding from a slashing blow to his neck, he and his companions barricaded the door with furniture, daring to open it only much later, when his supporters outside assured the group that it was safe (see figs. 4, 5).16
Lorenzo’s escape meant that the plot had failed. After a botched attempt by the plotters to occupy the Palazzo della Signoria, the perpetrators were hunted down and summarily executed, often in the most humiliating fashion. Florence was gripped with bloodlust as old slights were remembered and violently avenged. No more than a handful of individuals could have been involved in the plot, but before the day was over as many as a hundred people had been hanged, burned, torn apart, or beheaded. In the following days many more were tracked down and executed. The pope, enraged that the archbishop of Pisa had been ignominiously hanged as a plotter (a charge of which he was guilty), declared war on Florence and persuaded the king of Naples to throw in his armies. The conflict went badly for Florence, and by the winter of 1480 enemy troops were camped only a short ride from the city walls, poised to take the city by force in the spring. At this precarious moment Lorenzo chose to travel to Naples, placing himself in the hands of his enemy. Over the course of two months at the Naples court, his personal charm and political shrewdness resulted in the withdrawal of Naples from the papal alliance and the end of hostilities.
It might be said that Lorenzo calculated his options to serve his own interests, but if the enemy had taken the city, as seemed inevitable with the resumption of hostilities in the spring, not only would Lorenzo have been murdered on the spot but Florence would have lost her independence. By traveling to Naples he was able to influence King Ferrante and save his city, though at considerable risk to himself. “It was considered a marvel that he should have returned,” Landucci wrote in March 1480, “as everyone had doubted that the king would allow him to resume his post. . . . The ratification of peace arrived in the night, about 7 [3:00 A.M.]. There were great rejoicings with bonfires and ringing of bells.”17 After this, whatever other charges they might bring against him, Lorenzo’s enemies could never impugn his willingness to act selflessly for the good of the state. Following the war, he was able to demonstrate once again his diplomatic skill and cunning. Upon the signing of the peace treaty Lorenzo arranged to send three Florentine artists and their assistants to Rome to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel, ensuring that even in the heart of Sixtus’s artistic legacy, his Capella Maggiore, Florence’s cultural preeminence would prevail.18
Lorenzo’s reputation for diplomatic skill was carefully nurtured, though not always deserved. In 1472 he led Florence into a bloody reprisal against the citizens of Volterra, who were seeking independence in order to control their own alum mines. Lorenzo hired mercenaries who indiscriminately slaughtered the inhabitants. Though he was not directly responsible for the bloodshed, the stain of the Volterra massacre stayed with him and generated distrust even among his supporters. Nevertheless, he assumed the status of mediator and power broker in the intense political struggles within the Italian peninsula. In 1486 a number of wealthy barons in northern Italy declared war on one another and on the pope in the so-called Barons’ War, but Lorenzo was able to broker a compromise between them and end the hostilities.19
During the course of Lorenzo’s life, the Medici bank declined in importance. This was not entirely his fault, since the economic structure of Europe was shifting, reducing the influence of Florentine banks, but his stewardship of the family business certainly played a role. The Medici bank branches were located in Rome, Naples, Venice, Bruges, Lyon, Geneva, and London. Each was a separate enterprise overseen by the Florence bank, that is, by Lorenzo. Several of the branches were threatened with collapse through bad loans. If Lorenzo can be faulted, it may be because he gave too much independence to the individual managers and was reluctant to fire them when their decisions imperiled the system.20
An illuminating part of Lorenzo’s story is his relationship to his younger cousins, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco (1463–1503) and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco (1467–1498), who were descended from Cosimo’s brother, Lorenzo, whose son was Pierfrancesco.21 That branch of the family lived next door to the Medici palace but was independent. The boys’ mother, Laudomia Acciaioli, died in 1469, and Pierfrancesco followed in 1476, leaving his two sons orphans at the ages of thirteen and nine. Lorenzo adopted them, though he already had four young children of his own. He established a program of education for them, assigning tutors from his own network of scholars, poets, teachers, and philosophers.22 This apparently generous act may not have been entirely selfless, as the boys were heirs to a large fortune. Immediately after he became their guardian in 1476, Lorenzo persuaded them to buy a villa at Castello, an acquisition more in line with Lorenzo’s own interests. During the difficult years of war following the Pazzi conspiracy, Lorenzo dipped into the boys’ inheritance to prop up the Medici bank’s cash reserves. His action constituted embezzlement, and in 1485 he was forced by the courts to pay it back, partly in cash and partly in the transfer of ownership of his villa at Caffagiolo to the boys. Lorenzo’s treatment of his wards seems mixed in equal parts of generosity and callous self-interest.23
Lorenzo’s private life is well documented in stories, letters, and other records of his activities. From this patchwork emerges the image of a man with several abiding passions. He took full advantage of his station to avail himself of all the sensual pleasures Florence could offer. He wept upon hearing beautiful music, was known to keep mistresses, reveled in good food and clever company, and wrote bawdy lyrics for carnival songs. Most of all, he loved learning and antiquity, passions imbued in him from his earliest days as a pupil of several eminent scholars (fig. 6).24 His tutors included Cristoforo Landino, a Latinist and Dante scholar who dedicated his energies to publishing the first edition in Florence of The Divine Comedy in the new medium of printing; Marsilio Ficino, a scholar of Greek and the foremost Neoplatonic philosopher of the Renaissance; and Gentile Becchi, the most eloquent Latinist in Italy. Another friend was Leon Battista Alberti, the famous architect and humanist.25 As Lorenzo grew to manhood, this circle of intellectuals was enriched by the addition of younger poets and philosophers, including Angelo Poliziano, a scholar and the paramount poet of the quattrocento, who became his lifelong friend and the tutor to his children; Luigi Pulci, another poet, whose long poem La giostra di Lorenzo de’ Medici documented Lorenzo’s joust of 1469; and Pico della Mirandola, the remarkable scholar and philosopher who supplemented his knowledge of Greek and Latin with Arabic and Hebrew as a means of unlocking the wisdom of the past.26 Lorenzo spent substantial personal sums and a great deal of effort to invigorate the Studio, the University of Florence, and the university at Pisa. At the Studio he created a chair for the study of Greek, the first in Italy, and spawned the study of Greek throughout Europe.27
Lorenzo’s poetry is well known and documents his love of the countryside.28 Indeed, as the English-speaking world was discovering Italian Renaissance poetry in the nineteenth century, John Addington Symonds called Lorenzo the inventor of nature poetry. He saw nature as an antidote to the stress of urban life, as in his sonnet “Let Search Who Will.”
Let search who will for pomp and honors high,
The plazas, temples and the great buildings,
The pleasures, the treasures, that accompany
A thousand hard thoughts, a thousand pains.
A green meadow filled with lovely flowers,
A little brook that bathes the grass around,
A little bird pining for his love,
Better stills our ardor.29
His finest poetic work is his long poem Ambra, a series of forty-eight sonnets that describe his pleasures in life at his villa at Poggio a Caiano. The poem begins with a rich description of the sensual pleasures of the fall season as it changes into winter, filled with memories of flowers and ripening apples, before moving on to a series of classical mythological references. In this poem are concentrated two of the moving principles of his private life: love of nature and love of antiquity.30
Lorenzo had an unquenchable thirst for the material remains of the ancient world. When he was sent to Milan in 1465 as the official representative of Florence at the wedding of Ippolita Sforza and Alfonso of Aragon, he took the opportunity to acquire a number of ancient objects.31 In 1471, when he was dispatched to Rome as ambassador of Florence for the coronation of Pope Sixtus IV, he wrote, “[I] carried away two ancient marble heads with the images of Augustus and Agrippa, which the said Pope gave me; and in addition, I took away our dish of carved chalcedony [the Tazza Farnese (fig. 16)] along with many other cameos and coins.”32 For the rest of his life he combined diplomatic trips with buying expeditions and maintained agents throughout Italy to spot new discoveries. His appetite for collecting was known even beyond Italy, as demonstrated by the gift of two large (Chinese) porcelain vases, “the likes of which no one had ever seen, nor any better made,” from Sultan Qa’it-Baj of Cairo.33
Analysis of the collections in his palace shows that he spent little on contemporary art but acquired a vast number of coins, medals, antique cameos, ancient statues, and rare hardstone vases (figs. 16, 17, 18). The vases alone—many embellished with Lorenzo’s initials and ornamented with gold and silver fittings—account for a full 27 percent of the total value of the inventory. But the most revealing aspect of the cameos, medals, and coins is not their monetary value but the way they reflect the interior life of their owner (folios 18r–20v).34 In this assemblage of small precious objects, evocative of other times and places and meant to be savored alone and up close, we see the mind of a private person of poetic meditative sensibilities.
Nevertheless, Lorenzo used the collection to impress visitors to Florence, designing his tours to appeal to the character of the guest. In 1480 Lorenzo escorted Giovanni of Aragon, son of the king of Naples, through the palace and showed him the collections in a cunningly orchestrated manner, as reported by the ambassador to Duke Ercole d’Este of Ferrara in a letter to the duke.
Then he entered the studio and there he examined the said studio with copious quantities of books, all worthy, written with a pen—a stupendous thing. Then we returned to the little loggia opening off the camera. And there on the table he had brought his jewels [out of the studio] . . . vases, cups, hardstone coffers mounted with gold, of various stones, jasper and others. There was a crystal beaker mounted with a lid and a silver foot, which was studded with pearls, rubies, diamonds, and other stones [folio 17v]. [He also showed] a dish carved inside with diverse figures, which was a worthy thing, reputed to be worth 4000 ducats [the famous Tazza Farnese, folio 18r]. Then he brought out two large bowls full of ancient coins, one of gold coins and the other full of silver, then a little case with many jewels, rings and engraved stones.35
Lorenzo knew his audience. Giovanni was no scholar and cared nothing for the literary value of the books, just that they were “written with a pen.” Aware of his limitations, Lorenzo did not showcase his antiquities or visit his library. Instead, he led Giovanni from cabinet to cabinet, unveiling his bright, shiny hardstone vases, his rings and jewels, finishing theatrically with two bowls full of gold and silver coins and a case of jewels—a display calculated to impress the materialistic young man.
Lorenzo’s intellectual life is demonstrated by his library, which included books collected by his grandfather and father and enhanced by his own purchases. He bought and commissioned books voraciously: it has been estimated that he expanded the manuscripts alone from the two hundred he inherited to one thousand at his death.36 The library, however, is missing from the inventory, possibly because of construction work. We know that Lorenzo had been rebuilding the library from a number of references to marble he collected for the work. (After his death, even the Opera del Duomo confiscated marble from his palace for one of its altars.)37 His death interrupted whatever work had been done, but the project was revived in 1524 when Pope Clement VII, Lorenzo’s nephew, Giulio de’ Medici, who had been raised in the palace, commissioned Michelangelo to construct a new housing for the books at San Lorenzo, a library that eventually became the Biblioteca Laurenziana.
Contemporary descriptions of Lorenzo often seem intended to create the fiction of an exemplary Renaissance humanist and Florentine hero. The Florentine government’s official epitaph, written at the time of his death in 1492, is typical of the praise heaped on Lorenzo.
Whereas the foremost man of all this city, the lately deceased Lorenzo de’ Medici, did, during his whole life, neglect no opportunity of protecting, increasing, adorning and raising this city, but was always ready with counsel, authority, and painstaking in thought and deed; subordinated his personal interest to the advantage and benefit of the community; shrank from neither trouble nor danger for the good of the State and its freedom; and devoted to that object all his thoughts and powers, securing public order by excellent laws; by his presence brought a dangerous war to its end; regained the places lost in battle and took those belonging to the enemy; and whereas he furthermore, after the rare examples furnished by antiquity, for the safety of his fellow citizens and the freedom of his country gave himself up into his enemies’ power and, filled with love for his house, averted the general danger by drawing it all on his own head; whereas, finally he omitted nothing that could tend to raise our reputation and enlarge our borders; it has seemed good to the Senate and to the people of Florence, on the motion of the chief magistrate, to establish a public testimonial of gratitude to the memory of such a man, in order that virtue might not be unhonored among the Florentines, and that, in days to come, other citizens may be incited to serve the commonwealth with might and wisdom.38
Other contemporary sources underscore the complex and contradictory character of Lorenzo. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) knew Lorenzo well, and his judgment is informed by personal observation. In his Florentine Histories he does not shrink from identifying Lorenzo’s weaknesses, but in the end he offers an admiring description of the whole man:
His reputation grew every day because of his prudence; for he was eloquent and sharp in discussing things, wise in resolving them, quick and spirited in executing them. Nor can the vices of his be adduced to stain his great virtues, even though he was marvelously involved in things of Venus and he delighted in facetious and pungent men and in childish games, more than would appear fitting in such a man. Many times he was seen among his sons and daughters, mixing in their amusements. Thus, considering both his voluptuous life and his grave life, one might see in him two different persons joined in an almost impossible conjunction.39
The picture of Lorenzo that emerges from these documents rests upon an ocean of legend and quotidian facts, some of which tarnish the man while others embellish his character. A more interesting Lorenzo peers from between the lines of letters about and from him, and from his poems about the villa life that he so loved.40 Equally revealing, however, is the testimony of his possessions, packed away in cassoni and boxes, stacked in cupboards, and hanging on the walls of his private palace, all recorded in the inventory. It is not a document capable of resolving the contradictions in his life, but it has the unique virtue of presenting a true picture of one aspect of the man, unadulterated by legend or contrivance. This is the private world he lived in, constructed by himself and his family over his lifetime.
The Palace and the Family
The Medici palace was an epoch-making building in the history of architecture, proclaiming by its large size and classical rhetoric the new self-confidence of its humanist builders (fig. 8). It established the model for urban palace architecture for the next two centuries. The palace was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici, probably in 1444, from Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1396–1472), a pupil and close collaborator of Donatello and Ghiberti. Michelozzo had already worked for Cosimo beginning in 1433, redesigning the Medici villa at Careggi and renovating and expanding the monastery of San Marco. The palace, begun in 1446 and occupied in about 1458–59, is Michelozzo’s masterpiece, a seamless integration of the desires and political intentions of the patron expressed through the imagination of the artist.41
The palace was originally about 140 feet long on its main façade along the Via Larga, 140 feet deep, and 140 feet high through its cornice: a perfect cube (fig. 9). Its massive cornice imitates ancient Roman prototypes and expresses the geometric integrity of the design by being scaled to the whole building, not just the top floor. (The building was sold to the Riccardi family in 1659 and expanded along its main façade by about one-third, destroying the building’s original proportions.) The building occupied the site of as many as twenty smaller townhouses that were razed to make way for the new palace. Its plan was square, with the rooms disposed in four stories around a large, open, arcaded courtyard (the top story is not articulated on the exterior façade). In addition to the four stories, the palace was equipped with a cellar and mezzanine levels. It also had a garden attached at the rear, an unusual amenity that Lorenzo used to display his collection of marble antiquities. The enormous size of the building was reflected in the scale of the rooms, a scale that required grander furniture, more wall coverings, and more art, all of which are documented in the 1492 inventory.42
The building was distinguished on the exterior by the masonry, which articulated each floor as a separate entity. The alignment of the windows united the floors, while the treatment of the stone differentiated them. Massive rusticated stones on the ground floor expressed the defensive strength appropriate to the street level. On the piano nobile (the second floor), ashlar masonry with crisply carved deep joints between the stones manifested the refined elegance of the public face of the family. On the third floor, the smooth ashlar masonry was more reticent, suitable for private family purposes. In this carefully graded hierarchy of masonry Michelozzo merged the vocabulary of architectural expression with the layered structure of Florentine family life.
The most striking feature of the palace was the courtyard (fig. 10). Previously, Florentine city palaces were likely to contain small interior open spaces, more like light wells than courtyards. The Medici palace courtyard, wide and bright and carefully finished with the finest carved detail, was ceremonial in function and symbolic in form. By copying exactly the colonnade of Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti, Michelozzo evoked that building’s sense of pure mathematical proportions as well as its elegant classicizing vocabulary. Visitors to the palace were introduced to the humanist values of the family from the first moment they stepped into the courtyard, surrounded by the well-proportioned bays, graciously scaled columns, finely sculpted capitals, and finished wall surfaces. The experience was heightened by the display of ancient statuary in the surrounding ambulatory.43 The importance of the collection of antiquities to the family’s public image was underscored by the stucco medallions in the frieze of the courtyard entablature, reproductions of carved gems in the Medici collection. Standing on a high base in the center of the courtyard, Donatello’s bronze David gave symbolic meaning to the space. In style it evoked the sculpture of antiquity and in its inscription proclaimed the republican values of the family: “The victor is whoever defends the fatherland. God crushes the wrath of an enormous foe. Behold! A boy overcame a great tyrant. Conquer, O citizens!”44
The palace had been commissioned by Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici (1389–1464) for himself, his two sons, Piero (1416–1469) and Giovanni (1424–1463), and their families (figs. 11, 12). Lorenzo (1449–1492) was the first legitimate son of Piero and grandson of Cosimo. He became head of the family in 1469 upon the death of his father. As a boy, he watched the construction of the building and moved in when he was about ten years old. For all intents and purposes he grew up in the palace. In 1469 he married Clarice Orsini (1453–1488), a patrician from an important Roman family, and had ten children with her, six of whom survived into adulthood (Lorenzo’s three sons are pictured in Ghirlandaio’s painting of 1483–86 in Santa Trinitá, fig. 13). When Lorenzo died in 1492, his wife had been dead for four years, and four of their children were still living at home.45 Piero, Lorenzo’s first son and principal heir, was twenty-one and lived there with his wife, Alfonsina Orsini,46 who was pregnant with their first child. (That child was Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, who ordered this copy of the inventory in 1512.) Also living at home were Lorenzo’s daughter Contessina, who was fourteen, his son Giuliano, thirteen, and his nephew Giulio (the future Pope Clement VII, the son of his murdered brother Giuliano), who was fourteen.
Living quarters for the principal male family members were arranged in suites of two to four rooms.47 Two suites were designated as belonging to Lorenzo and one to his son, Piero, while young Giuliano had just taken over the quarters of his brother Giovanni (the future Pope Leo X), who had moved out. The other living areas are not specified as belonging to particular family members. Each suite consisted of a camera, which served as a living room as well as a bedchamber, an antecamera, a multipurpose auxiliary room, and another room, such as a study, an armory, or a bath and/or toilet room. Marble busts placed over the doors identified the original occupants of these suites. In the living spaces on the piano nobile, a bust of Lorenzo’s father, Piero (fig. 3), and a bust of his mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, were placed over the entrance to the antecamera and camera that then became Lorenzo’s suite (folio 13v).48 Cosimo’s bust adorned the entrance to the camera of his suite on the same floor. In another suite a marble bust of Giovanni, Piero’s brother and Lorenzo’s uncle, marks the entrance. That room is identified in the inventory as “the chamber of Monsignore, where Giuliano lives” (folio 38v). The marble bust proves that it must have belonged to Giovanni first. Paintings in the room confirm that it then passed to Lorenzo himself before becoming the quarters of Lorenzo’s second son, Giovanni (later Pope Leo X), who was Monsignore.49 Giovanni lived there until he was officially consecrated a cardinal and moved out, in March 1492, and his brother Giuliano moved in. Piero, Lorenzo’s first son, had a prime suite. It had its own terrace and consisted of a camera, antecamera, water closet, and armory. Lorenzo’s younger brother, Giuliano, had lived there until he was murdered in the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478.50 Lorenzo had two suites: a large reception hall called the Sala Grande on the ground floor and another on the piano nobile, each with an attached camera and antecamera. The famous study, which contained the most valuable treasures, was connected to the suite on the upper floor.
The palace also had a family chapel in a prominent position at the top of the main staircase on the piano nobile (fig. 14). The room on the piano nobile called the saletta was the family dining room (folio 38r). A suite of rooms on the third floor served for food preparation, including the kitchen proper, a pantry, a bread room, a fruit storeroom, and a vinegar room. An armory on the top floor was used to stockpile weapons, and a room there was set aside for a priest’s quarters. The famous Medici collection of books, compiled over three generations by Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo, was kept in a library on the fourth floor, though it was not inventoried.51
Apportionment of the Assets
The furnishings and household goods with which Cosimo and his son Piero filled the rooms of the palace, and the valuables they amassed, were augmented by the addition of the valuables Lorenzo collected. Comparison of the present inventory with earlier inventories of the Medici and other wealthy Florentine families reveals a change in the percentage of the estate vested purely in household goods. Previously, the inventoried estimate of a palace’s value lay predominantly in the value of household goods like furnishings and clothes, but the value of Lorenzo’s estate in his townhouse resided overwhelmingly in his collections.52
The total estimated value of the itemized goods in the inventory is 79,618 gold florins (fig. 15).53 (The value of a florin should be understood in terms of its buying power. In 1480 one estimate of the cost of living stated that an annual income of seventy florins was sufficient to support a worker, his wife, and three or four children for one year.)54 An accounting of the Medici holdings had been made upon the death of Lorenzo’s father in 1469 that totaled, according to Lorenzo’s own account book, 227,982 scudi (a scudo and a florin were comparable in value), but this included all the holdings in the campagna as well as the value of the real estate itself. The present inventory includes only the value of the goods within the city palace, not that of the palace itself. (When the palace alone was sold in 1659 to the Riccardi family, the purchase price was forty thousand scudi.) Of the estimated evaluation of the goods in the palace, approximately 20 percent is made up of what might be called household goods. Collectibles—that is, luxury items that are independent of the running of the household—make up the remaining 80 percent of the total.55
Household goods are defined as:
(1) Furniture, including benches, beds, chairs, and tables and the chests and caskets in which things were kept, altogether totaling only 1 percent of the value of the inventory.
(2) Clothes and dress-making fabrics, about 5 percent of the total.
(3) Household linens, including sheets and bed covers, mattresses and pillows, bed-curtain sets, towels, table and bench covers, cushions, and table linens, altogether totaling about 7 percent of the total.
(4) Weapons and armor, including tournament and jousting gear, about 4 percent.
(5) Miscellaneous goods, including wine, kitchen equipment, dishes, and various pots, urns, basins, and jugs, about 3 percent.
(1) The paintings and sculpture, as well as small objets d’art, totaling about 5 percent of the total value of the inventory.
(2) Tapestries, about 1.5 percent.
(3) Hardstone vases, 27 percent of the entire value of the inventory.
(4) Cameos and incised stones, 19 percent.
(5) Gems and jewelry, 18 percent.
(6) A single “unicorn horn” estimated to be worth six thousand florins, or 8 percent of the inventory’s value.
(7) Three distinct specialized collections: clocks (folio 24v), musical instruments (folio 10v), and Chinese porcelain (folio 7v), altogether totaling 964 florins, or slightly more than 1 percent of the total.
The palace had a renowned collection of books, the bulk of which, those kept in the family library on the fourth floor, were not itemized in the inventory. Any estimate of the value of the Medici property would consider the books among the most valuable items, so the total value of the estate should be adjusted accordingly. In 1465 Piero had his library inventoried and found that the estimated monetary value of his books came to 2,860 florins. That nucleus of Lorenzo’s collection would have amounted to 3.5 percent of the amended total, but the substantial number of books and manuscripts that Lorenzo himself added later would have enhanced it.56 The total value of the books, then, would have surpassed considerably the 5 percent valuation of the paintings and sculptures.
An important category of art objects that failed to find its way into the inventory is the collection of statuary, ancient and modern, placed in the courtyard and the rear garden. Among the modern works were Donatello’s bronze David, which stood on a tall base in the courtyard, and the same artist’s Judith and Holofernes, in the garden. After the expulsion of the Medici family in 1494, both were confiscated by the state as symbols of civic justice.57 Lorenzo had an extensive collection of ancient statuary, about forty-three whole figures and fragments, most of them positioned around the garden of the palace and omitted in the inventory.58 The clerk also failed to account for Lorenzo’s large collection of ancient coins, most of them gold and silver. Angelo Poliziano, who catalogued them during Lorenzo’s lifetime, found that they numbered no fewer than 4,678 pieces, though only 484 are mentioned in the inventory. The value of the coins would have been substantial, from a little less than one florin each for the silver coins to four florins for the gold, and would have inflated the overall value of the estate.59
The most highly valued item in the inventory was the Tazza Farnese (fig. 16), now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, described as “a bowl of sardonyx, chalcedony and agate, within which are several figures and on the outside a head of Medusa,” valued at 10,000 florins (folio 18r).60 The other highly valued items include a jasper wine cooler (2,000 florins) (fig. 17), a sardonyx ewer (2,000 florins), a cameo with the scene of Noah’s Ark (2,000 florins) (fig. 18), an incised chalcedony of a figure seated on an altar (1,500 florins), another cameo with a nude figure in front of a tree and other figures (1,000 florins), a carnelian depicting three figures (1,000 florins) (fig. 19),61 and another carnelian with a chariot running over figures (1,000 florins). A reliquary known in earlier inventories as the “reliquary of the libretto” and in this inventory as “a golden reliquary in the form of a tabernacle” was estimated at 1,500 florins (folio 22v).62 And, finally, the previously mentioned “unicorn horn” was evaluated at 6,000 florins. The estimate of these ten objects alone, at 28,000 florins, amounts to 35 percent of the total of the entire estate.
Furniture was both moveable (e.g., chairs, tables, and benches) and built in (e.g., attached benches, credenzas, and cabinets that were part of the wooden paneling lining the walls). Most of the pieces would have been familiar to modern eyes: trestle tables, benches, credenzas, and cabinets, for example. Beds were found in almost all the rooms. There were two types of beds: the lettiera, a large four-poster bedstead usually surrounded with a podium serving as both bench and storage chests, and the lettuccio, a smaller combination bench, daybed, and storage chest, often with a high back used as a clothes rack. A major decorative and utilitarian piece was the ubiquitous chest, a separate, coffinlike box called either a cassone or a forziere, used to store clothes, tapestries, table linens, and similar goods (fig. 20). These chests were often painted with scenes presenting moral lessons from mythology, ancient history, or the Bible.63 A number of chairs are described as alla cardinalesca (cardinal’s chair), the type of folding X-frame armchair commonly referred to today as a Savonarola chair (fig. 21). A special bench with a high back that could fold over to face either direction was placed in front of fireplaces. Most rooms were lined with walnut paneling up to shoulder height or above and sometimes incorporated built-in benches or credenzas or cabinets. Almost all the individual pieces were of walnut, either carved or inlaid with wood intarsia, including especially spindle wood, a light-colored dense-grained wood.64
An example of the disposition of furniture in a typical suite can be seen in the quarters occupied by Piero, Lorenzo’s son and principal heir (folios 42r–48v). The suite had been designed for Giovanni di Cosimo, Piero’s brother, and had passed to Giuliano, his nephew and Lorenzo’s brother, then in turn to Piero. The suite consisted of four rooms: a bedchamber (camera), antechamber (antecamera), bath, and armory. The bedchamber itself was furnished with a walnut bedstead (lettiera) 10.5 feet long, with a step-plinth all around decorated in intarsia and inlay, and a walnut bed-settle (lettuccio) with a built-in linen chest and clothes rack, decorated with images and two large gilt bronze balls. Also in the room were two leather armchairs (alla cardinalesca), a reversible bench in front of the fireplace, a walnut cabinet (cassa) with two doors, two oblong chests (forzieri) with gilt cornices and painted pictures, and a poplar-wood credenza (armadio) with beveled corners and walnut and spindle-wood inlay (fig. 22). Connected to this room was Piero’s antechamber, another room equipped as a bedroom (folios 47v–48v). It was lined with pine wainscoting with walnut panels and a built-in cabinet (casse) with two doors. It had a bedstead (lettiera) 7.5 feet long, with an inlaid step-plinth around and a pine bed-settle (lettuccio) with a built-in chest, inlaid in walnut. The bedstead, a four-poster like most beds of the time, had a painted bed tester (canopy) above, depicting Fortune by Botticelli. A little bookcase, two coffer chests, a walnut armchair, and a cypress trestle table 7.5 feet long completed the furnishings. On the walls were two mirrors. A bathroom connected to the suite contained a cedar trestle table, a footed washtub, a barber’s bowl, and a washbasin, all of brass, as well as other utensils. The last room, Piero’s so-called armory, was full of weapons and armor stored in cabinets and chests (folios 45v–47v).
The inventory is of great importance for documenting the quality and quantity of clothing that wealthy Florentine families possessed.65 From paintings (e.g., figs. 23, 24, and 25) we can reconstruct the fashions of men and women of the period, but the clerk’s detailed description of the fabrics, including the great variety of colors, textures, and linings, provides an even more vivid image of their appearance. The inventory uses terms for clothing that are not always clear to the modern reader. What, for example, was the difference between the lucco, the robetta, and the turca, three types of men’s gowns? How should we understand the distinctions between a bernia and a cioppa, both women’s overdresses? The English translation “gown or overdress” for these terms obscures the nuances of type, now lost, that the inventory clerk was recording.
Women of the patrician class generally wore three layers of garments (figs. 23, 24). Next to the skin was worn a light linen garment like a shirt or shift (camicia or converciere). These garments are always inventoried in groups, which suggests that they were generic in form rather than decorative. The next layer was a long dress, from shoulder to floor, called a cotta or gammurra, tight around the bodice and flaring at the waist, with or without sleeves and either plain or elaborately decorated. For public display an overdress—a bernia, cioppa, or roba—completed the ensemble, often lined and of the most recherché fabric, also with or without sleeves and so tailored as to reveal artfully the underdress through slashed sleeves, side slits, or an open front. The descriptions of these garments conjure up images of women elegantly turned out in brightly colored textured fabrics, often brocade or watered to create variegated color effects, lined with fur or rare silk and with inset gores of complementary colors and fabrics.
Men also wore a light linen shift next to the skin to which they added colored hosiery, either a pair of tights or two individual stockings fastened at the waist with points (laces), sometimes with soles attached. The informal dress would then be completed by a doublet, a short, tight-fitting jacket that flared over the hips, called in the inventory a farsetto or giornea or, if equipped with a longer skirt, a gonnellino. In public or for formal occasions patricians generally wore a long, voluminous gown called a lucco or robetta (see figs. 3, 6, 7, 25). Other terms used by the clerk to describe a masculine overgown are saio, vesta, and, perhaps for its resemblance to Eastern dress, turca. These loose robes were simple in tailoring, extended from shoulder to floor, were either sleeveless or had wide, deep sleeves, and derived their beauty from their expensive, deep-colored fabrics, often brocade or velvet with contrasting linings of fur or silk. Lorenzo had a large collection of these elaborate one-of-a-kind gowns, suggesting that his public image depended in part upon the conspicuous display of his wealth and sartorial taste.
Outdoor garments included hats called berrette and a number of different kinds of overcoats, some with attached hoods or cowls. These are called cappa (a hooded cape), mantello, catalano, gabbana, and gabbanella. The inventory also lists separate cowls or hoods called cappucci. Men also wore a shorter wrap or shawl called a mongile or pitoco, often made of fine fabrics and sometimes lined. Strangely, only a single pair of shoes is mentioned in the inventory (folio 52r) but some tights are described as con solate, i.e., equipped with attached soles.
The clerk documented about 139 paintings and sculptures.66 Of these, eighty-two are paintings on panel, twenty-one are paintings on canvas, one is Gozzoli’s fresco, and thirty-five are sculptures in bronze, marble, or terracotta. Five paintings are called Flemish, but the portrait of a “French woman” by Petrus Christus, a Flemish painter (folio 28r), indicates that the scribe was uninformed about northern painting, calling any northern work “French.” The nine paintings described as “in the French style” must mean transalpine rather than French. Most of the artworks were bought by Cosimo and Piero, but in spite of the fact that the art was part of the one-time expenses intended to complete the rooms—interior decoration—the selection of works was in no way casual. They knew which artists they wanted to patronize.67
Though Cosimo was the head of the family, Piero played an increasingly important role in directing art purchases. By 1438 Piero had already assumed a position as art adviser to his father.68 Piero’s role became even more pronounced after 1455, as the palace began to be decorated. Correspondence between Piero and Benozzo Gozzoli confirms that he, rather than his father, was the authority of last resort in the final stages of the palace decoration. Gozzoli, who was given the plum commission of frescoing the chapel, practically grovels in a letter to Piero written in 1459 during the execution of those frescoes, offering to change a detail that he heard had displeased Piero.
This morning I had a letter from your lordship through Roberto Martelli. And I learned that you thought the seraphs I had done were not suitable. I made one in a corner among some clouds, of which nothing is to be seen but some wing points, and it is so hidden, and the clouds cover it in such a way, that it doesn’t create any bad effect, but rather adds beauty. I made one on the other side of the altar but also hidden in the same way. Roberto Martelli saw them and said it was nothing to make a fuss over. Nevertheless, I will do what you order; two clouds will wipe them out.69
Lorenzo, whom history considers the great aesthete and promoter of Florentine art, bought almost no artwork to decorate the walls of his own home.70 When he became head of the family upon the death of his father in 1469, the palace had been lived in for a decade and was fully decorated. Its rooms were paneled and furnished, and the large expanses of wall were adorned with paintings, relief sculpture, and tapestries. Since it was not necessary for him to acquire more paintings to dress the walls, Lorenzo added only a few of the inventoried works. These few include the set of three spalliera paintings by Lo Scheggia (folio 39r), Piero del Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza (fig. 26) (folio 6r), a bronze relief of a battle scene by Bertoldo di Giovanni (fig. 27) (folio 38r), and two Botticelli paintings (folios 42v and 48r). Each of these additions was occasioned by special circumstances. The three spalliera paintings by Lo Scheggia depicted Lorenzo’s famous joust of 1469 and were probably commissioned on the occasion of the redecoration of the suite of rooms that Lorenzo and his new bride, Clarice Orsini, were moving into in 1469.71 The Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza was commissioned to commemorate the duke’s visit to Florence in 1471.72 The bronze battle scene relief by Bertoldo dates from ca. 1480 and must have been added to the décor of the family dining room by Lorenzo because of his close relationship to the artist. The Botticelli paintings, one of which was a parade banner made for Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano for his joust in 1475, were certainly commissioned by Giuliano and date from 1475. This notably short list of additions confirms that Lorenzo bought a few works for specific reasons but felt no need to add to the paintings assembled by his father and grandfather.73
Many of the works must have been imported to the new palace from the old Medici houses (the case vecchie). The family moved into the new palace in about 1459, yet Fra Angelico, who died in 1455, is credited with six works, Pesellino (d. 1457) with four works, Masaccio (d. 1428) with three works, and Andrea del Castagno (d. 1457) with one. These paintings probably hung in the family’s old residences. Other works brought from the old residences include Jan van Eyck’s St. Jerome in His Study (fig. 28), which Cosimo must have owned already in the 1440s since it belonged to Niccolò Cardinal Albergati, who died while traveling near Siena in 1443.74 A tondo depicting the adoration of the magi, which the scribe mistakenly attributed to Pesellino, is believed to be the tondo in Berlin by Domenico Veneziano (fig. 29) that dates from about 1439–41, and therefore was part of the furnishings of the family’s case vecchie.75 Also predating the move into the new quarters was Lorenzo’s birth salver with the Triumph of Fame (fig. 30), painted in 1449 (folio 14r).76
Some of the original works commissioned for the palace seem to have been conceived as a programmatic cycle. Apparently, the decoration of the Sala Grande on the ground floor (folio 6r) and that of the equivalent large room on the piano nobile (folio 13v) were designed as ensembles. In the ground-floor room, three of the six large panels that lined the walls just below the vaulted ceiling were the scenes from Paolo Uccello’s series The Battle of San Romano (1430s–1450s) (fig. 31), which celebrate the military prowess of Florence. In the great room on the piano nobile were three large canvases, each ten feet square, depicting the labors of Hercules (lost) by Antonio Pollaiuolo (ca. 1432–1498) commissioned for that room.77 Completing the ensemble were a canvas depicting Saint John by Andrea del Castagno (1421–1457) and another titled Lions in a Cage by Pesellino (both now lost). Both Saint John and caged lions were symbols of Florence, so the Labors of Hercules series may symbolize the Herculean efforts of the Medici family in its leadership of the Florentine state. The programmatic character of these decorations reflects the rooms’ function as formal reception areas.
Cosimo’s and Piero’s selection of artists is interesting. The largest number of paintings by a single artist are by Fra Angelico, who is represented by six paintings, including The Adoration of the Magi (fig. 32) in Lorenzo’s bedchamber, valued at one hundred florins, the highest valuation of a single painting in the entire inventory.78 The most frequently represented sculptor is Donatello, with four relief works. Not counted in the inventory, but among the most impressive works of sculpture in the palace, were Donatello’s two full-size freestanding bronze sculptures David and Judith and Holofernes, in the courtyard and garden of the ground floor.79 Cosimo’s intimate relationship with Donatello is well documented and accounts for the frequent appearance of his works. The only other sculptors to be identified by name are Desiderio da Settignano, with a relief of “a story about fauns” and a marble head, and Bertoldo di Giovanni, with a bronze centaur and his previously mentioned relief of a battle scene.80 Two anonymous “glazed” reliefs of the Madonna and child were probably by Luca della Robbia.81 A small bronze statuette titled Hercules Crushing Antaeus, in the room called “the chamber of Monsignore, where Giuliano lives,” was almost certainly by Pollaiuolo (folio 38v).82 The many anonymous carved images of the Madonna and various portrait sculptures mentioned in almost all of the rooms would probably have included works by other respected Florentine sculptors such as Mino da Fiesole, the Rossellino brothers, and Benedetto da Maiano, but their authorship eluded the inventory clerk.
Pesellino (ca. 1422–1457) is credited with four paintings plus a collaboration with Filippo Lippi, a panel showing Saint Jerome and Saint Francis.83 In Giuliano’s room was a Pesellino Madonna and Child with Angels in a tabernacle. The attribution of The Adoration of the Magi to Pesellino, however, is generally believed to be mistaken and is now thought to refer to the tondo by Domenico Veneziano in Berlin (fig. 29). But the two most prominent works by Pesellino were his Hunt, in the ground-floor Sala Grande, and his Lions in a Cage, in the Sala Grande on the piano nobile. Piero must have commissioned both as part of the decoration of the case vecchie and transferred them to the palace in 1459. Domenico Veneziano is credited in the inventory with a Portrait of a Woman in a tabernacle with shutters that hung in Giuliano’s room and a “half-nude figure seated in a niche holding a skull,” probably a Saint Jerome, as well as the previously mentioned tondo of the Adoration.84
Filippo Lippi, a favorite of Cosimo, is represented by four works: the collaboration with Pesellino mentioned above, a painting of a “nude figure asleep on a bench,” the noted but uncredited chapel altarpiece The Virgin Adoring the Child with St. Bernard (fig. 33), now in Berlin, and a collaboration with Fra Angelico in his large tondo of The Adoration of the Magi (fig. 32) in the ground-floor bedchamber of Lorenzo (folio 6r).85 Two more panels by him were in the Medici palace but are not mentioned in the inventory. They are Seven Saints (fig. 34) and an Annunciation, both now in the National Gallery in London. They were sold directly from the Medici-Riccardi palace in 1858 and are connected to the Medici family by the presence of Medici arms in the Annunciation and by the selection of the name saints of the senior members of the family in Seven Saints. Lunettes about five feet in width, they are of a shape and size that suggest that they were painted as overdoors and were the only artworks besides the Gozzoli chapel frescoes that were not removed and sold at auction in 1494. Apparently, then, they were installed in a fixed position in the palace, unable to be easily removed and carried off to auction. Since they were definitely in the palace, they must have been in a part that was not inventoried. The only room omitted from the inventory important enough to contain such impressive paintings was the family library. It appears under the heading “the room of the library on the same terrace” at the bottom of folio 61v but is followed by no entries, as if the scribe had been unable to enter the room. The London Filippo Lippi lunettes, therefore, may have been part of the built-in decor of the library.86
Botticelli (1444–1510), who was too young in 1455–60 to be among the original painters of the palace, nevertheless appears in the inventory with two works, as noted above: a painted bed canopy depicting Fortune (folio 48r) and a Pallas Athena with a shield on canvas (folio 42v), both in the suite belonging to Lorenzo’s son Piero but occupied earlier by Lorenzo’s brother, Giuliano. We know from Vasari in his life of Botticelli, written in the 1540s, that a life-size Pallas Athena with a Shield by Botticelli hung in the palace. This lost work was the parade banner that Giuliano used in his famous joust of 1475, chronicled by Poliziano in his long poem Stanze per la giostra del Magnifico Giuliano. He apparently had the banner mounted and hung along with the four prize jousting helmets and the horse and body armor from the Duke of Calabria that had been given to him on the occasion of his joust. Giuliano, with two works by Botticelli in his suite, must have had a particular predilection for the painter’s work.87
Among the slew of anonymous paintings, several are intriguing. In the chamber of the wet nurses a large painting on canvas of the calumny of Apelles, a subject based on Lucian’s essay On Slander, may be misidentified (folio 56r). It is described as hanging in a group of four paintings, apparently a matched set with a composite valuation of four florins, all of which are on canvas “in the French [i.e., northern] style.” This “calumny” is paired with a “story of Moses Crossing the Red Sea,” both slightly larger than two braccie (about four feet) long. In the 1495 sale of the Medici belongings a certain Luigi della Stufa is recorded as purchasing a Judgment of Solomon for two florins, the only painting sold at the auction that was not mentioned in the 1492 inventory. Might the della Stufa purchase be the painting identified by the original clerk as the calumny? The judgment of Solomon is a subject better suited to the wet nurses’ room than the calumny, and since both involve a crowd gathered around a king seated on a raised dais, the clerk could have confused the two subjects.88
Another work, the “panel painting depicting a perspective scene, that is, the palazzo de’ Signori with the piazza and the loggia and the houses around looking the way they are” (folio 11r), might be the very painting by Brunelleschi described by his biographer Antonio Manetti as “a perspective of the piazza of the palazzo de’ Signori.” This epoch-making work was Brunelleschi’s demonstration of the new science of linear perspective that was to capture the imagination of Florence’s painters. Vasari, in his life of Brunelleschi, described this panel as “the palace, the piazza and the loggia of the signori, as well as the roof of the Pisani and all the surrounding buildings.” This detailed description, which matches the inventory description perfectly, makes it clear that Vasari knew the work at first hand, and since he had access to the Medici collections, he may have seen it there.89
Several artists of Lorenzo’s generation are conspicuous by their absence. No works by Verrocchio, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi, or Leonardo da Vinci are mentioned. All were working in Florence during Lorenzo’s lifetime, and at one time or another he recommended all for government or private commissions. He even hired Verrocchio, Filippino Lippi, and Botticelli to work on projects in his own suburban villas at Careggi, Lo Spedaletto, and Poggio a Caiano, yet he did not buy works from them for his palace. Apparently, he felt that the interior decoration of his rooms was complete, except for the aforementioned few works. This fact speaks to the issue of Lorenzo as collector. He seems to have devoted his collecting energies to acquiring such objets d’art as gemstones and ancient vases and sculpture rather than contemporary art. He did not “collect” art by contemporary painters and sculptors, though he commissioned work from them for his architectural projects. On the other hand, starting in 1465, when he was only sixteen, he bought coins, cameos, antique vases, and other collectibles, items that fill his study and account for more than 70 percent of the estimated value of the entire inventory.
The Inventory Paraphrased
The clerk who made the original inventory was a professional who was able to identify and give a reasonable estimate of value to a wide variety of goods, from furniture, to art, to jewelry, to raw bolts of fabric.90 When he measured length he used the braccia (Italian for arm, abbreviated br. in the inventory), equal to twenty-three inches (.583 m). For liquid measurements he used the barile (Italian for cask or barrel, plural barili), equal to .486 quarts (.46 liters). His estimates of monetary value were in Florentine florins (abbreviated f. in the inventory). A useful comparison, as noted above, is given by a source in 1480 who stated that seventy florins would be sufficient to support a family of husband and wife and three or four children, meaning that this amount would buy housing, clothing, and food for one year.91
The clerk occasionally allowed his personal tastes to make their way into his lists, using bello (beautiful or handsome) to describe finely executed embroidery, a decorated chest, a child’s cradle, and even a well-made dough-mixing trough, but he was remarkably dispassionate, considering the impressive works he was describing. He seems to have had fairly specialized knowledge of all types of possessions, but he was not a connoisseur of art or books, among other things, and seemed to be most at home picking through luxury items such as fine fabrics and jewelry.
To organize his inventory, the clerk began in the basement and ascended upward through the floors to the attic and roof, entering each room and describing furniture, wall decorations, and cabinet contents.92 He treated the basement storage rooms peremptorily. These vaulted cellars were used for the storage of wood and wine. Originally, he tells us, a part of the cellar was used as a stable, but these rooms were reassigned to wine and tool storage. One entire cellar room contained only malmsey wine (a wine made from the malvasia grape), and another was called the “summer cave.” The total wine storage amounted to about 635 liters, a relatively small figure for such a large extended family.
He then took the stairs up to the ground floor, where he entered the great reception area, called the Sala Grande, the largest of a suite of rooms (folio 3r). He measured the built-in benches and intarsia wall paneling lining the four walls at 153 feet. Before documenting the rest of the contents of the great room, he went into the attached bedchamber (folios 3r–5r). There, a large inlaid wooden four-poster bed (lettiera) with parapet sides, seats all around, and a trundle bed beneath dominated the room. A settle (lettuccio) with a built-in storage chest stood nearby. On the wall were a marble relief of the Virgin and child with angels set in a carved and gilded wooden frame, a mirror, and paintings (maps?) of Italy and Spain. Three storage chests four to four and a half feet long held an assortment of tapestries, many expensive, for covering benches, tables, and walls.
Next, he moved on to the little antechamber called the study, a room equipped with a daybed, a cupboard, a leather Savonarola chair, and storage boxes and trunks (folio 5r). These contained weapons and armor, including no fewer than twenty-five swords and daggers, as well as a gong and a brass horn. The weapons and alarms inside Lorenzo’s private chambers reflect the dangers faced by political leaders at the time: more than once plotters had made attempts on his father’s life, and the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478 cost his brother Giuliano his life and almost succeeded in assassinating him. Also in the room were items for personal use, including a case decorated in silver containing four razors and a silver mirror, and two little silver boxes in a bag to hold soap.
From there the clerk returned to the great room called the chamber of Lorenzo in the Sala Grande suite (folios 6r–8r).93 This was the room with many of the best-known works of art in the Medici collection, beginning with the six large paintings surrounded with gilt frames, altogether eighty feet long by seven feet high, lining the upper walls: the three Uccello paintings of the battle of San Romano (fig. 31), Uccello’s battle between dragons and lions, his story of Paris, and a hunt picture by Pesellino. Also in the room were Fra Angelico’s Adoration of the Magi (fig. 32), a framed St. Sebastian and Other Figures by Squarcione, Piero del Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza (fig. 26),94 and a portrait of the Duke of Urbino. Paneling and built-in furniture lined the walls. Paneling framed in walnut with intarsia and with a built-in cupboard covered forty-six feet of the wall, and a credenza with five doors covered twenty-nine feet. Seven brass candelabra stood around the room. The bedstead was decorated with walnut moldings and intarsia with a surrounding plinth, but a much more expensive bed-settle (forty-five florins versus the four-florin valuation of the larger bedstead) was decorated in walnut panels and intarsia, with cupboards at either end, altogether eighteen feet long, with four drawers underneath the cupboards. The larger bed had a bed-curtain set embroidered with herons and falcons valued highly at sixty florins. Other furniture included a cypress table with carved and inlaid trestle supports, a round table of lignum vitae, two leather armchairs, and another armchair with a moveable back. One cupboard held various vases and jugs and miscellaneous items. The cupboard built into the wall paneling was filled with Chinese porcelain, one of Lorenzo’s collecting interests.95 Weapons stored in one of the bed cabinets recall the importance of vigilance and the perception of imminent danger: ten small swords of various types, four larger swords, six rapiers, four daggers, and an iron mace.
Attached to the Great Room was a bath and toilet with benches and odds and ends, including a brass foot-washing basin and a bed warmer (folio 8r). Above that room was a small mezzanine room with a makeshift bed composed of two chests with mattress and some simple furniture, perhaps a night attendant’s room (folio 8v). Several servants’ rooms followed: a grooms’ (i.e., servants’) room, the so-called clerk’s bedroom, and an antechamber. All of these rooms were equipped with beds and storage cupboards and chests, apparently suitable for servants’ use but unremarkable.
Next came a large room, the “chamber of the two beds,” so named because its most prominent features were two large four-poster beds (folios 9r–11r). It may have been the bedroom of Piero, Lorenzo’s father, judging by the presence of a tapestry bed-curtain set called “the bed curtains of Piero,” described in detail and valued highly at one hundred florins. The room also had a bed-settle (lettuccio) painted to imitate intarsia. This was an important room that contained such luxury items as paintings, chess sets, and an exceptional collection of musical instruments. That collection, enough to equip a small orchestra, included five organs, five harpsichords, three bass drones, four violas, a harp, two lutes, three sets of flageolets, and three pipes. On the wall were a number of paintings, notably the aforementioned perspective scene of “the palazzo de’ Signori with the piazza and the loggia and the houses around looking the way they are” (folio 11r).
There followed the doorkeeper’s chamber, a very simple room (folio 11v). It would have been next to the main entrance, suggesting that at this point the clerk had inventoried all of the ground-floor rooms in order around the courtyard and was ready to continue up to the piano nobile. Stairs led to a mezzanine area above the ground-floor loggia that housed a series of servants’ quarters (folio 11v): first, Bertoldo’s room, followed by a grooms’ bedroom and the housekeeper’s room.96 All were supplied with minimal furniture. Finally, on the mezzanine level was a small study fitted out for keeping records and furnished with a writing desk and a wooden bench, a portable writing stand, a plank shelf for documents and books, and a small walnut table with a paper spike.
At the top of the stairs a corridor ran to the palace chapel, a suite of rooms consisting of a vestibule, chapel, and sacristy (folios 12r–13v). The chapel today is dominated by Gozzoli’s fresco The Procession of the Magi (figs. 12, 14, and 35).97 The clerk placed the fresco in the passageway before the entrance to the chapel proper, whereas the painting actually covers the interior walls of the chapel. He described the painting as 13.5 feet high by 9.5 feet wide. The word he used for the support was panno, meaning “paneling,” but he intended that to include fresco. The inventory of the chapel proper included the appropriate altar cloths, towels, and liturgical accoutrements, all counted and described by the clerk, as well as wall paneling with sixteen built-in choir stalls and a carved wooden railing totaling 30.5 feet. Above the altar, in an elaborate frame with columns, was the altarpiece by Filippo Lippi (though the clerk mentions no artist), The Virgin Adoring the Child with St. Bernard (fig. 33).98 One item in the sacristy is of particular interest. Just before exiting the room the clerk mentioned a “box in which is a sacred stone,” probably the Byzantine portable altar called the Sacred Stone, known to be in the Medici collection from earlier inventories, valued highly in 1465 at one hundred florins but given no estimate in this inventory.99
The clerk next entered the suite of rooms connected to the Sala Grande, the major apartment on the piano nobile (folio 13v). Adorning the walls were the three huge Pollaiuolo paintings of the labors of Hercules, each 11.5 feet square, Pesellino’s Lions in a Cage, and Andrea del Castagno’s St. John, discussed above. Seven shields with the arms of the Medici and the arms of guilds also decorated the walls. Around the room were built-in inlaid wooden benches and paneling 153 feet in length. Twelve freestanding iron candelabra were arranged throughout.
The next room in the suite was the bedchamber of Lorenzo (folios 13v–16r). A marble bust of Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici (fig. 3) stood in a niche over the entrance door and another of Lucrezia Tornabuoni over the door into the anteroom, indicating that these rooms were the suite of Lorenzo’s father and mother. By the time the clerk made his inventory in 1492, the room had come to be called Lorenzo’s room. Decorating the chamber were a number of paintings and sculptures: a freestanding marble nude Hercules,100 a marble relief of the ascension by Donatello,101 a Flemish painting on canvas 10.5 by 7.5 feet, four panels in mosaic, and Lorenzo’s own birth salver The Triumph of Fame (fig. 30).102 A few curiosities suggest Lorenzo’s personal taste and attest to the private character of the room: an ostrich egg, a mirrored glass sphere suspended by a silken cord, and an expensive wall clock.103 An inlaid wooden bedstead 10.5 feet square with a surrounding plinth and a matching inlaid wood bed-settle stood in the room. Both were decorated with gilt carved figures and heads. Three chests, a cassone and two matching forzieri, held clothes. The two forzieri were painted with scenes of Petrarch’s triumphs. The first contained nineteen men’s gowns and the second, forty-five various gowns. The cassone held mostly overcoats, hoods, hose, and doublets. They were in a great variety of fabrics, colors, and linings: purple wool lined in beige leather, purple and crimson satin lined in white leather, black damask lined in ermine.104 An unusual item was the damask fabric doublet lined in chain mail, for use in times of danger. And true to what seemed to be an interest of Lorenzo (see below), on the wall was a gilt copper clock two feet high, valued at twenty-five florins (folio 14v).
Continuing into the antechamber (folio 16v), the clerk identified more works decorating the walls. Curiously, he named the artists of eight works in a row, including three Donatello reliefs, two paintings by Fra Angelico, a Giotto Crucifixion, and two works by Pesellino, including one painted with Filippo Lippi. This is the only place in the inventory with such a meticulous listing of artists’ names, a notable fact because it suggests that tags on the frames may have identified these works, unlike the majority of the other artworks in the inventory.105 He also listed a lunette 4.5 feet wide with a double portrait of Francesco Sforza and Gattamelata, a painting titled The Universe (Last Judgment), valued highly at fifty florins, a lunette of Rome, one of Italy, and two reliefs with antique figures. For furniture the room had a plain full-size bed and a pine bench locker nineteen feet long, with wainscoting of inlaid walnut panels.
The next room was the famous study, a treasure room for the Medici collections of vases, cameos, rings, small paintings, clocks, and other valuables (folios 17–31).106 It had been Piero’s study but had become Lorenzo’s on the death of his father. Its contents were the most valuable in the whole palace, the twenty-seven vases and cups alone estimated at 17,850 florins. There were seventy-five cameos and other carved stones, each carefully described, though not always identified as to subject: for example, “a large carnelian with three figures . . . one partially clothed and standing with a lyre in his hand, with a nude figure kneeling at his feet, the other with the head of an old man, seated with his hands behind him tied to a tree,” actually depicts Apollo, Marsyas, and Olympus (fig. 19). The most highly valued cameo depicted Noah’s Ark (fig. 18), now preserved in the British Museum. At two thousand florins it was twenty times more valuable than the most expensive painting, Fra Angelico’s Adoration tondo. Though probably regarded as ancient, the Noah’s Ark cameo was in fact produced in the workshop of Frederick II in about 1250.107 A large number of rings, gems, and jewelry108 were counted and itemized (folio 21r), and a gold reliquary, called the “reliquary of the libretto” in earlier inventories, with shutters, chains, locks, and keys, was valued at fifteen hundred florins.109 Lorenzo kept a collection of five different clocks in the study, four more than necessary to tell the time. He seems to have been interested in clock mechanics.110 A bronze statuette, about eighteen inches high, was called The Nude of Fear. It was sold at auction in 1495, and the nickname appears in later documents to refer to a bronze Marsyas owned by Jacopo de’ Nerli.111 The study also had eighteen small paintings and mosaics described as of “Greek workmanship,” meaning that they were Byzantine in origin. The clerk recorded a collection of fifteen maps as well as nineteen books ranging from religious texts to Dante and Petrarch, many luxuriously bound. Among the books was a manuscript of “Petrarch’s work, first the Triumphs, illustrated and illuminated, written in pen on pages of handmade paper, and the Songs, Sonnets, and the Vita of Dante, covered in crimson satin, with many insets” (folio 27r). That manuscript is now preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.112 Another manuscript, “a little book of the Offices of the Madonna, with silver boards,” can be identified as the Holkham Book of Hours in the collection of the Earl of Leicester.113
The paintings included St. Jerome in His Study (fig. 28) by Jan van Eyck (probably actually workshop or Petrus Christus),114 Portrait of a French Lady by Petrus Christus, and Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Squarcione.115 Three caches of coins were recorded as follows: 284 antique silver coins, 200 various coins, and 1,844 bronze coins. (Missing from the inventory is Lorenzo’s collection of gold coins, which we know from other documents was highly valued.) Among the curiosities were a “unicorn horn” about 6.5 feet long, valued at six thousand florins, and an elephant tooth.
Following what must have been several long and tedious days counting cameos, gems, jewelry, and coins in the study, the clerk moved into the mezzanine room above the antechamber of the room “called the large bedchamber of Lorenzo” (folios 31v–38r). This room held a collection of material appropriate to the running of the household and an extensive collection of coral as well as other odds and ends. Household items included decorative cushions, sets of towels, sheet sets, handkerchief sets, chemises, tablecloths, runners and napkins, bedspreads, canopy bed curtains, wall tapestries stored in cabinets, and bolts of cloth. A walnut writing desk held a collection of seventeen unidentified books. A great many personal items for women were stored here, including handkerchiefs, head scarves, a “little woman’s book,” linen undergarments (convercieri), and a roll of “woven cotton cloth for bandages [bende],” 115 feet long, and twenty-four individual long bandages for women (benducci da donne), apparently for menstrual periods. The list suggests that this was the domain of the women of the house.
The clerk then proceeded into the saletta opposite the Sala Grande (folio 38r). This seems to have been the family’s dining room. At the door was placed a windbreak/cupboard eight feet wide and four feet deep. The room was furnished with inlaid paneling all around, framed in walnut, and had two very large tables on trestles, seventeen and twenty-one feet, respectively, with matching benches. A high-backed bench with arms stood in front of the fireplace. On the wall hung paintings by Filippo Lippi, Domenico Veneziano, and a Flemish painting with “many Bacchanalian figures at carnival time,” as well as a bronze relief above the fireplace of men and horses in battle by Bertoldo (fig. 27). In the middle of the room was a large brass floor candelabrum with places for twelve candles. A cupboard housed a brass basin and ewer with the arms of the Medici and the Tornabuoni (Lorenzo’s father and mother, respectively), six saltcellars, an enameled spice box, and cutlery, including ivory-handled knives and silver spoons and forks.
The next room, the “chamber of Monsignore, where Giuliano lives,” overlooked the street (folios 38v–41r). As noted above, Monsignore was Lorenzo’s second son, Giovanni, who had moved out of the palazzo when he was consecrated a cardinal only one month before Lorenzo died. His younger brother, Giuliano, thirteen years old at the time, was quick to move into the vacated bedchamber. A marble bust of Giovanni di Cosimo de’ Medici, Piero di Cosimo’s brother and Lorenzo’s uncle, stood in a niche above one of the doors, indicating that the room had originally belonged to the elder Giovanni, who died in 1463. Lorenzo himself seems to have lived in this room when he came of age, as already noted. It was decorated with spalliera paintings 25 feet long by 2.5 feet high, divided into three parts by gilt frames and colonnettes, depicting the joust of Lorenzo. The joust, which took place in February 1469, was a famous event in Lorenzo’s life, chronicled in elaborate detail by Luigi Pulci in his long poem La giostra di Lorenzo de’ Medici. The paintings would have been added to the wall paneling in 1469, probably on the occasion of redecorating the apartments for Lorenzo and his new bride, Clarice Orsini. Also displayed on the walls were the prize helmet from the joust, distinguished by an elaborate crest of a woman in gold with a gown embroidered in pearls, and a gilt jousting lance. Other artwork in the room included a Madonna and child by Pesellino, the Portrait of a Woman by Domenico Veneziano, a glazed terra cotta Madonna and child (probably by Luca della Robbia), a poesia (mythological scene) of two figures in a landscape, a small bronze nude holding a golden ball, and an even smaller statuette of Hercules crushing Antaeus, most probably by Pollaiuolo, as noted above.
Furniture in this room was dominated by the usual two beds: a richly decorated and inlaid wooden four-poster bed 10.5 feet long with a surrounding step plinth, and a bed-settle, also richly decorated with intarsia, with two attached storage cupboards. Also in the room were a high-backed bench in front of the fireplace decorated in intarsia with the Medici arms, two sumptuously decorated storage chests with paintings of the story of Marcus Marcellus of Sicily, and an inlaid pine and walnut cassone linen chest 7.5 feet long, all three chests sitting on an inlaid wooden plinth. The spalliera paintings of Lorenzo’s joust were set into the paneling above this set of three chests. The first storage chest held unfinished fabric and remnants as well as twelve overcoats. The second held mostly women’s and girls’ dresses of various colors and fabrics, including cotte, gabbanelle, gammurre, cioppe, robe, and bernie. The cassone contained a few garments and various household items, including cushions, sheet sets, and towels.
Next to this room was an antechamber (folio 41r), a small space decorated with thirty-eight feet of inlaid walnut paneling; into the wainscoting was built a bed-settle, a cabinet with two doors, and the side and foot of a full-size bed. Judging by the absence of wall decorations, this seems to have served as an attendant’s quarters attached to the bedchamber described above.
A staircase continued up to the mezzanine level. Part of the way up, apparently on a landing, was a shrine with an altar and the gilt-framed Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico (folio 41v). A mezzanine room followed. It was equipped with a plain bed, a table, and two cupboards containing an assortment of goods, notably a number of expensive damascened metal basins, a horse-trapping set, and many weapons. The only paintings mentioned are a birth salver depicting a battle scene by Masaccio and a portrait of Madonna Bianca, Lorenzo’s older sister. Two bronze statuettes of nudes, one holding a fish and a snake, stood in the room. In a cabinet were four small bronze (?) nudes and two bronze reliefs of cherubs, along with a carved marble head by Desiderio da Settignano.
The chamber of Piero followed (folios 42v–45v). In the corridor leading to the chamber hung a Fra Angelico panel of saints’ stories, 7.5 feet long, and a relief sculpture of “fauns and other figures” by Desiderio da Settignano. As mentioned above, the chamber of Piero belonged to Lorenzo’s eldest son and heir and opened onto its own terrace. On the walls hung a gilt carved wooden tabernacle of the Madonna and child, 3.75 feet high,116 two Byzantine Greek panels, and a gold-framed painting on canvas of Pallas Athena by Botticelli.117 Also on display were four prize helmets from jousts, as well as two bronze statues of a mounted rider and a centaur. The room held a large walnut bedstead 10.5 feet long with a step plinth, all inlaid with light-colored wood. It also had a bed-settle combined with a clothes rack and a storage cupboard inlaid with perspective designs and decorated with two large gilt bronze balls. Two gilt storage chests decorated with paintings, an inlaid wooden credenza like a cassone, and a walnut cabinet with two doors provided more storage. Finally, there were two cardinal-style (Savonarola) leather chairs and a folding-back bench with walnut moldings and intarsia in front of the fireplace. The first of the two gilt storage chests contained eight pairs of cushions, richly decorated and described by the clerk. The second held sets of sheets, towels, and a number of canopy bed sets, the most interesting of which was a linen and taffeta canopy curtain set with a dome of white taffeta, all decorated with fine gold thread and enamel and valued at one hundred florins. The credenza contained twenty-four men’s gowns called turche or lucchi and nineteen gowns, called veste, robette, or saie, of luxurious fabrics in rich colors, many lined with fur. It also held an assortment of wraps, cloaks, tunics (giornee), and doublets (farsetti), equally rich in color and fabric.
Attached to the room was a small water closet equipped with a cedar table, washtub, barber’s bowl, basin, and jug (folio 45v). This small room was followed by a large armory containing sets of armor, both full and partial, as well as a large collection of weapons (folios 45v–47v).118 Some of these were intended for jousts but others for military use: decorative and armored horse trappings, processional banners, sets of crossbows, crossbow winches and boxes of crossbow bolts, swinging maces, sixteen Turkish bows, eleven two-handed swords, five rapiers, and thirteen gilt and plain swords, to name only a few.
The adjacent antecamera of Piero was lined with inlaid walnut paneling with a cornice above for books and cupboards below with inlaid wooden doors (folios 47v–48v). It had a little walnut bookcase with a drawer and a writing stand, and a long trestle table with a tapestry table cover. On the cornice above the writing stand were three cocoanuts. On the walls were a round mirror with an ivory frame decorated with the seven virtues, a small Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, a portrait of Alfonsina Orsini, Piero’s wife, a bronze relief of the triumph of Bacchus with twenty-one figures, and two pale silk-fringed banners, among other works. The furniture consisted of a plain four-poster bed with a surrounding step-plinth and a pine bed-settle with a built-in chest and balustrade back. Above the bed hung the canopy with Botticelli’s painting of Fortune. Also in the bedchamber, presumably in the chest of the bed-settle, were sixteen beautiful women’s shifts of French linen and sixteen aprons, also of linen.
The clerk proceeded to the mezzanine room of the antechamber of the tascha (bank holdings) (folio 48v). It was furnished with a large bedstead surrounded with bench lockers and a poplar-wood bed-settle with a clothes rack and a built-in cassone with two lids. Also in the room was a wooden cupboard with eight doors, veneered in walnut, 9.5 feet long by 7.5 feet high. The cupboards apparently were almost bare, as the clerk recorded only a few pieces of clothing and some bolts of cloth. The room above the antechamber of Piero (folio 49r) was used to store linens, towels, some clothes, and various fabrics, all in a large cedar chest, nine gilt boxes, and three smaller caskets. No other furniture was in the room. Among the notable items were a dog’s bed of green taffeta, an elaborate canopy bed-curtain set, five bolts of Egyptian linen from Cairo, twenty-four used men’s and women’s chemises, forty-five half-length linen chemises, nine dresses belonging to Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife, who had died in 1488, a short green linen cape decorated along its borders with gold interlace studded with enamels, and two brass spittoons.
The chamber of the tascha (bank assets) came next (folios 50r–51r). It contained an antique walnut chest “in which are kept the assets of the bank,” but it was equipped as a bedroom as well. The room had the expected inlaid wood four-poster bedstead, 10.5 feet on a side, with a step-plinth all around and a matching inlaid wooden bed-settle 7.5 feet long. Also in the room was a small wooden cabinet in which were stored pharmaceutical herbs. In the chest built into the box-settle were women’s clothes: twenty-five garments of varied materials and colors, including cioppe, robette, and cotte. Under the heading “clothes of Giuliano” were six capes and overcoats.
The intriguing antechamber to the chamber of the wet nurses marks the point at which the clerk ascended to the third floor, where the utilitarian functions of the palace were housed (folios 51r–52r). This antechamber, like all the sleeping rooms, was equipped with a large four-poster bedstead and a bed-settle. The large bed had surrounding benches and the bed-settle a canopy and inlaid wooden garlands. Two exceptionally large cassoni, altogether 14.5 feet long, inlaid and with matching back boards, contained a large wardrobe of clothes. Three smaller chests, three upholstered “women’s chairs,” and a small cabinet in the closet latrine completed the furniture. Among the clothes, all women’s, were six overdresses (giachette), nine dresses (cotte), and four bodices for nursing women. All of these garments were made of luxurious fabrics, though many were designated as stained or faded, suggesting that they may have been handed down or stored here. Two gowns were even designated as belonging to Madonna Clarice, Lorenzo’s deceased wife. Among other interesting objects were a hat press, seven bath shifts, “both torn and intact,” a little basket with three pairs of beautiful scissors decorated in gold, three sacks of cloth scraps, and many pounds of thick and thin white and black thread. This was obviously one of the sewing rooms.
The corridor leading from the chamber of the tascha to the chapel was outfitted with furniture indicating that it was a kind of vestibule as well as a passageway (folio 52r). It contained five benches of various kinds totaling fifty-seven feet in length, a trestle table twenty-three feet long, a small cabinet, and four upholstered “women’s chairs.” On the wall were a birth salver and a painting on canvas of “a dinner table with many figures, a fountain, and other things, French [i.e., northern],” about eleven feet long. Since it was followed by the servants’ dining room, it may have been the waiting room before meals or, judging by the long table, an auxiliary dining area.
A suite of rooms dedicated to the culinary needs of the house followed (folios 52v–55v), beginning with the “dining room where the servants eat,” outfitted with a table twenty-three feet long, two long benches, two cabinets, and a side table. The room had its own well, with buckets, chain, and pulley. The main room in this suite, and the largest, was the kitchen, used for food preparation and cooking. Though the inventory makes no specific mention of it, the kitchen would have centered on a large walk-in kitchen fireplace. Furnishings included a trestle table 9.5 feet long, another table six feet long, and a third, 13.5 feet long, described as a “table cabinet” with three doors and two shelves. For seating, the room had two benches in total twenty-three feet long, ten stools, and a chair. Sets of dishes were stored here, some designated as belonging to the masters, other, simpler ones for the staff. A set of majolica platters, plates, urns, and jars was described as “of fine quality.” For cooking, saucepans, cooking pots (including two designed for poaching eggs), cauldrons, frying pans, and baking trays were listed. Three circular iron racks held the pots. For the fire there were iron tripods, grills, drip pans, roasting spits, andirons, tongs, forks, and shovels. The kitchen also had a well with chain rope and pulley, a wall clock with counterweights that could strike the hour, and a chicken coop.
Next to the kitchen was a kitchen pantry or, in today’s usage, a “butler’s pantry” (folio 53r). It was equipped with a cabinet four feet wide, a credenza used as a table, eight feet long, two storage chests, and two stools. In it were kept a set of majolica dishes described as “from Montelupo, beautiful,” 301 plates and dishes, and a variety of metal vessels, urns, and basins. Also stored here were “twenty-eight beautiful oil lamps from Pistoia.” Like the kitchen, the pantry had a clock that could strike the hour.
The next room in order was designated as belonging to Madonna Mea, an otherwise unknown person. She may have been the chief cook, judging by the room’s location between the pantry and the bread room (folios 53v–55r). In addition to being Madonna Mea’s private room, the room was used for storing table linens, many of them expensive, including cloths, napkins, hand towels, and runners. A curiosity are the ten roller towels, each 11.5 feet long, stored here. The room was outfitted with a wooden shelf all around, forty-six feet long, a plain bed, 8.5 feet long, a cabinet and a cupboard, two cassoni, and a number of smaller boxes and chests. In the chests were many sets of sheets and towels distinguished by their use for face, feet, hair, and so on.
The next room in the kitchen suite was the bread room (folio 55r). Standing against the wall was a wooden table 7.5 feet long and a shelf above of the same length. The room was equipped with another table of the same size used to roll out the dough, a bench-settle to lay out the bread for rising, two kneading troughs, two flour casks, nine large bread planks, seven flour sifters, and three smocks to wear when using them. Also in the bread room were five barrels of oil ranging from “pinkish to vinegary to chamomile to others.”
The chamber of the servants was a poor sleeping room (folio 55r). It had two large bedsteads, an old-fashioned bench-settle, and two crude cassoni in poor condition. Completing the run-down picture were blankets in poor condition, a broken plate, and an old polyptych with many saints. The fruit storeroom followed (folio 55v). It had two shelves on the wall that ran the circumference of the room, sixty-one feet in all, on which the fruit was stored, a wooden cabinet, a crude walnut cupboard containing “provisions of various kinds,” and a short bench. This room may have been used for the preparation of candied and preserved fruit, an important part of the diet of wealthy families. A large amount of table service was stored here, including majolica dishes, plates, pitchers, basins, and wine coolers, as well as a great deal of pewter, brass, and copper tableware and urns.
Following this, the clerk entered the chamber of the wet nurses (folio 55v) (he had already inventoried the antechamber of the same suite). Compared to the servants’ quarters, this was a much more refined room, larger and decorated with inlay on the furniture and paintings on the walls. The paintings included a four-foot-square Calumny of Apelles and an equally large Moses Crossing the Red Sea, also anonymous, inventoried as a matched set with two small paintings of “fat singers.” The bedstead had walnut moldings and intarsia work and a daybed with a cassone attached at its foot. Also in the room were three more cassoni, a gilt storage chest, two old coffers, and a pair of trunks covered in animal skin. Spinning was done here, as evidenced by the presence of eight wool-winding spindles and their bases and a carved cedar chair. A “beautiful” gilded and painted cradle reflects the original usage of the room. Two notable items are a picnic set for two, complete with dishes and cookware, and a set of nets for snaring birds.
From the servants’ and utilitarian rooms on the third floor, the clerk ascended to the floor above. This was actually another set of rooms with its own terrace, set back from the exterior walls of the palace. Several rooms were of significance. He began with a room described only as “On the terrace above,” which, judging by its equipment, may have served as a kind of watchtower (folio 56v). It was equipped with four benches and two large wooden tables, as well as lances, pikes, banners, and fifty-three red body shields decorated with the Medici arms and with streamers attached. Stored on the roof, these may have been deployed as decoration on the façade on special occasions or as processional equipment.
The Sala Grande comprised a suite of rooms similar to the great rooms on the ground floor and the piano nobile. The clerk began in the bedchamber of the Sala Grande (folio 57r), which was furnished with a large bed (10.5 feet long) with intarsia work and bench chests all around. There was also a box-settle with a cassone and a clothes rack, in walnut with a lot of intarsia. These were furnishings for a significant member of the family. One of the paintings on the wall depicted the stages of the moon, and two others had religious subjects. For storage the room held, besides the chests built into the two beds, another cassone with intarsia panels and six paired chests of smaller size. The chests held three horse-covering cloths painted with livery, a saddle cover, eight varied gowns (vestiti), thirteen doublets, some for use with armor, and four helmets covered in white damask. These sound like stored processional uniforms.
The antechamber of this suite was another matter (folios 57v–60r). On the walls were a bronze relief of the Madonna and a painting on canvas of the same subject. For furnishings it had a bedstead 8.5 feet long with benches attached all around, a clothes rack with three rows of pegs, plus no fewer than seven cassoni and two smaller storage chests. In the cassoni were stored a large quantity of unfinished bolts of material, including seven bolts of linen totaling 1,336 cumulative feet, nine bolts of cloth for sheets totaling 1,924 feet, eight bolts of cloth for tablecloths totaling 931 feet, and a large quantity of other rolls and pieces of cloth designated for household use, such as table runners and napkins. Another chest held an assortment of cloth and clothes for both men and women and for tournament wear. These included a remnant described as a nineteen-foot-long piece of white velvet with gold brocade of branches and garlands and the Medici arms, and another of white velvet decorated with green parrots and gold brocade. Among the clothes were overcoats, doublets, gowns, and tabards for wearing over armor, some specified as for children, some used and worn, and some with Medici livery. The distinguishing characteristic of this list is the variety of materials and linings: green satin embellished with silver, high-low velvet in crimson and purple, sky-blue velvet lined in iridescent taffeta. This was followed by a list of clothes under the heading “Giuliano’s clothes” (folio 59v): eight overcoats and three gowns (turche) in crimson and gray damask and satin, black or reddish or purple velvet or cotton cloth, all lined in fur of lynx, squirrel, ermine, or marten. Also itemized were three pairs of new silk Lucchese hose.
A small bathroom was attached (folio 60r). In it were a large cassone with towels and sheets, a large brass washtub, and an assortment of metal bowls, jugs, and pails. Above the bathroom was a mezzanine room in which were stored flax to make thread, utensils and tools, and forty-three small silver cases.
A priest resided in the palace (camera del prete), his modest quarters consisting of a fourth-floor bedchamber and antechamber that opened onto the roof terrace (folio 60r). In his bedroom were a bedstead and bed-settle, both with walnut frame and intarsia, a clothes rack, and a built-in cassone. Two box benches stood nearby. A “beautiful” wicker table and a number of chairs, including a carved cedar chair, an old armchair, and two upholstered “women’s chairs,” completed the furnishings. On the walls were a gold-framed adoration of the Magi on canvas, a portrait of Madonna Lucretia (Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo’s mother), and two other paintings. The location of the portrait of Lucrezia in the priest’s out-of-the-way quarters recalls her reputation as a particularly devout woman who wrote religious poetry.119 The priest’s antechamber had another, smaller bedstead and two box benches, a lined window curtain, and an old broken copper pail, possibly a chamber pot.
The next room on the fourth floor was designated simply “the terrace room toward the street.” It seems not to have been occupied at the time but was used for storage of family goods, primarily arms and armor. It was equipped with a walnut and intarsia bedstead with two decorated bench chests and a box-settle with built-in clothes rack and cassone decorated with the Medici arms. Four upholstered “women’s chairs,” a carved cedar chair, and two high-backed walnut benches completed the furnishings. No personal items were described. The attached antechamber held a collection of armor and weapons (folio 61r). Many of these were in a large cabinet with two doors: cuirasses, helmets, shields, scabbards, brassards, pauldrons, cuffs and gauntlets, back and hip armor, and tips and points for lances, most designated for tournament use.
The clerk wrote the heading for the next room, the library, but, as noted above, he left the page blank (folio 61v). The Medici library was a famous collection of books and manuscripts, begun by Piero and Cosimo, Lorenzo’s father and grandfather, and continued by Lorenzo. The clerk failed to inventory this valuable part of the estate, probably because it was undergoing renovation.
The next room was described as a “large armory above, next to the roof” (folio 62r). This was the Medici private militia armory. It contained enough armor and weapons to equip a small army and included a field tent for use in warfare. It lists 115 helmets, chain mail for 156 foot soldiers, 111 pairs of arm armor (brassards), and 93 pairs of leg and thigh armor (cuisse and greaves). Among the weapons were 23 sword lances, 27 rapiers, 44 fixed-position crossbows, and 37 field crossbows. A notable addition was the five harquebusses, the ancestor to the modern rifle that was introduced into Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century and was destined to revolutionize warfare. On the landing of the stairs to the roof were kept other large military equipment and various objects (folio 62v). These included eight catapults and a cart for carrying them, a field bed, and a field wagon for transporting people. Also stored here were two large models of an old house, probably the original models for the palace. They recall the story that when Brunelleschi submitted his model of the palace to Cosimo de’ Medici, Cosimo rejected it because it was too grand and would incite envy. Brunelleschi, angered by the insult, smashed the model with his cane.120 One of the two models mentioned here might have been Brunelleschi’s damaged model and the other Michelozzo’s replacement. Also on the landing were the dismantled remains of the dais built for the celebration of Lorenzo’s son Giovanni’s elevation to the cardinalate, which had taken place in March of the same year (1492).
The location of the next room to be inventoried, the vinegar room (folio 63r), is not clear. Since its purpose was related to the kitchen, it was probably on the third floor below, so the clerk must have originally skipped it and returned at this point. It contained vinegar stored in barrels as well as a cask for salting meats. Also stored in the room were a variety of utensils and bowls, basins, and jugs.
The final room in the inventory is the most mysterious. It is called the chamber of the mute woman (camera della muta) and contained a cell 23 feet long and 9.5 feet high made of wooden bars built against the wall. Inside was a wooden bed eight feet long. No one knows who the original occupant was, but the twenty-five jousting lances stored here suggest that it was no longer used for the mute woman.
Also of Interest
Subscribe to our mailing list and be notified about new titles, journals and catalogs.