Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Palazzo Vecchio: L'interno Magnifico

Following up on my last post about grotesques in the entrance hall to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence: more from inside the building itself.

[Warning: lots of images. If I break your computer, I'm sorry. But I can't help it. The fever is upon me.]

After buying a ticket, you climb the stairs to the first floor and enter the enormous grand ballroom.

A door in the back corner leads to the apartments, where the roof of a small passageway hints at what is to come.

I stood in this tiny corridor for ages, annoying tourists and getting a crick in my neck. Which was silly, considering how many more ceilings were to come.

First up is the room of Cosimo il Vecchio (1389-1464) who, the museum explains, is "[the] founder of the main branch of the Medici family." He is Cosimo the Elder, the wealthy man who shepherded Florence (and the house of Medici) into power and prosperity during the late14th and early 15th centuries.

It is also thanks to Cosimo that the walls and ceilings of these apartments (and the amazing ceilings of the Uffizi Gallery) are swarming with grotesques. He is the one who actively facilitated - and funded - exciting new artistic projects in Florence, beginning with his own house. Chief designer and groteskologist for these renovations was Giorgio Vasari, a key mover in the history of the grotesque in art (who has been mentioned on this blog before).

Anyway, the good stuff.

The roof, the walls; hybrid creatures swing and tangle everywhere.

The colours are fantastic, as you can see, while the designs are still sharp and well preserved. The next room (belonging to Lorenzo the Magnificent) continues in this vein, only more, and larger.

Most of the grotesques are quite high, but I tried to get some closer images along the way.

This goes on, room after room.

Some of my favourite rooms belong to Cosimo I de' Medici's wife, Eleonora of Toledo [Edit: I should make clear that this is a different Cosimo: 1519 - 1574!]. I love them because Cosimo and Georgio have clearly taken Eleonora's gender and interests into consideration: there is a distinct 'green' theme with lots of animals and plants; the frescoes on the walls depict various heroic women from history and mythology; and lots of the grotesque figures are overtly female.

Now, all these pics might leave you making this face...

... but seriously. I've never seen true grotesques in the wild like this, let alone such an exceptional example of the traditional style.

It's quite overwhelming in person; having them swarming all over, above and around you. Deliberately excessive and distracting.

This is something to keep in mind when I post about my recent visit to the Domus Aurea. (Yes, I'm in Rome now - bit behind with the old blogging. Too much stuff to see.)


  1. Hello! I'm curious about the room you've labelled as belonging to Lorenzo il Magnifico. With the Domus Aurea being found in the 1480s, there were a group of artists Lorenzo sent to Rome to decorate the Sistine walls (including Botticelli, Signorelli and Perugino etc) - is it believed these decorations were completed by one of these artists before Lorenzo il Magnifico's death in 1492 or are they also later Vasarian additions?

    I really enjoyed Nicole Dacos's volume on Raphael's Vatican Loggia - giving an overview of the influence of the Domus Aurea on specific artists - it was wonderful that Pinturicchio was finally acknowledged - his association with the Borgia seems to have resulted in his contributions being brushed aside somewhat.

    Have a great time in Rome :)


  2. Great question, H! And - thanks to my consistently obnoxious habit of photographing labels and signs - one that I can actually provide a reasonably precise answer to.

    According to the museum, the designs in this room were created between 1556 and 1558. So yes, they are later Vasarian additions. Of course, Vasari didn't do everything by himself: Leonardo Ricciarelli, Giovanni Boscoli and Mariotto di Francesco are credited as artists, while Bartolomeo Ammannati is also tentatively listed as a designer.

    You know, I just visited the Vatican yesterday (and obviously lost my mind at all the grotesques: post incoming) - so I'm intrigued to hear about Daco's analysis, which I haven't read. I shall fall upon it like a hungry bear as soon as I'm home ;)

    Thanks for commenting!

    P.S. Did you know Lorenzo's father was known as 'Piero the Gouty'? Poor guy.