Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Itinerary: Art and Money in Renaissance Florence

Although the exhibit “Money and Beauty” at Palazzo Strozzi has ended, the city itself offers opportunities to reflect upon the strong ties between banking and merchant money and art in the form of architecture, fresco cycles and even whole areas of the city. The vast wealth accumulated by individual Florentine bankers made the entire community rich, bringing about a chain of events that turned the city into a unique, huge museum. An itinerary provided by Palazzo Strozzi’s press office is worth publishing with my changes and integrations for any visitors interested in continuing to think about this theme.

Ghirlandaio, Sassetti Chapel, Santa Trinita, Florence

Medici money may be the most apparent in the city, but it’s not the only example of patronage thanks to banking profit. It was Cosimo il Vecchio who commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to build the present version of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, the Medici family’s parish church in the 15th century. Cosimo’s Tomb and the Funeral Monument of Piero and Giovanni de’ Medici are by Verrocchio. The family library is housed in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Laurentian Library) designed by Michelangelo, next to the church. The whole complex is extremely close to Palazzo Medici (later Riccardi), the prototype of the Florentine Renaissance palace, which Michelozzo built for Cosimo. Cosimo de’ Medici also funded the rebuilding of San Marco around 1437, a former Dominican convent that is now home to numerous works by Fra’ Angelico, who lived here and painted the frescoes in the friars’ cells, the Chapter House and other rooms.

Palazzo Rucellai

Palazzo Rucellai

Chapels in Santa Maria Novella belonged to such merchant families as the Bardi, the Rucellai, the Strozzi (frescoed by Filippino Lippi) and the Gondi (the chapel, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, houses Brunelleschi’s Crucifix). And of course the Strozzi and Rucellai families’ wealth is highly visible in this area in their palaces – the Rucellai palace by Alberti can be visited from the outside only on via della vigna nuova.

Inside Santa Croce

Many of these family names show up again at the Basilica of Santa Croce in which chapels frescoed by Giotto and his school belong to the great houses that owed their fortune to trade and banking: the Bardi, the Peruzzi, the Baroncelli, the Rinuccini, the Castellani and the Alberti. Later, Andrea de’ Pazzi commissioned Brunelleschi to build the Pazzi Chapel; Cosimo de’ Medici had Michelozzo rebuild one wing of the convent for novices, and Tommaso Spinelli, treasurer to Pope Paul II, paid for the construction of the 15th century cloister.

Oratory of the Buonomini, photo archivio fotografico Regione Toscana

Money is highly apparent in the chapels of the church of Santa Trinita, in particular in the chapel of Francesco Sassetti, in which Domenico Ghirlandaio and his assistants painted the Stories of St Francis, including a view of a northern city which may be Geneva or Lyons, where Sassetti was in charge of the local branch of the Medici Bank. Also depicted are Sassetti himself and his family, together with Lorenzo the Magnificent and his progeny in splendid robes and jewels. From the same years and in a similar narrative style, frescoes by the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Oratory of the Buonomini di San Martino depicts the Buonomini group’s social work from about 1480–1485. Restored in the spring of 2011, this is the only Florentine painting cycle of the period with a non-religious theme.

Even the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, by Masolino and Masaccio, fit into this theme because they are linked to a diplomatic mission to the court of the Egyptian sultan in 1422 by Felice Brancacci (the man who commissioned the frescoes) to win preferential trading terms for Florence.

uffizi

Finally, the Uffizi Gallery houses works connected with the Arte del Cambio (or Money Changers’ Guild), including a panel by Orcagna with the Stories of St Matthew (1367) from a pillar in the church of Orsanmichele. It is also home to Botticelli’s most important masterpieces which have become veritable icons of the Florentine Renaissance.

To get a sense of what life might have been like in the fifteenth century, two palazzi turned into museums recreate a wealthy merchant family’s home: the Horne Museum, with its rich art collection in a period setting, and Palazzo Davanzati.

Source: Palazzo Strozzi press office, with some changes.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.