Continue south toward Piazza della Signoria as we discuss a few Medici missteps that – in classic Medici fashion – eventually led to dukedom. It seems Lorenzo drained all the brilliance for a few generations, as his son and predecessor was dubbed Piero the Unfortunate – seriously, they called him that. It is no surprise, then, that Florentine Republicans seized upon Piero’s ineptitude and drove the Medici into exile by 1494. The family remained ousted until 1512. During this time, the city restored the true Republic, untainted by Medici masterminding. Once in the politically hot piazza, head straight for the reproduction of Michelangelo’s David. In 1504, the statue was positioned here strategically for a dash of anti-Medici propaganda. The statue stands tall in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, protecting the seat of the Republic from the Medici’s prying power. He was also rotated to gaze south toward Rome, where the Medici took up residency during their exile. David’s glare practically shouts, “And stay out!” Clever, huh?
The David wasn’t the only Medici snub in the politically charged piazza. The statue of Judith and Holofernes, to the left of David, is a particularly sharp blow to the family. The Donatello reproduction (the original is held inside Palazzo Vecchio) was originally commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. The Medici intended the statue of Judith beheading the tyrannical Holofernes to be a message to the Florentines that they were protectors of their sacred Republic. Once the Medici were out of town, however, the Florentines snagged it, plopped it in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and reversed on the meaning – Judith now represented Florence, and Holofernes, the Medici. Zing!
So at the dawn of the 16th century, Florence seemed to be in the clear of the manipulating Medici. It’s never that easy though, is it? We suggest a mental break at one of our favorite piazza cafés (Riviore if you’re in the mood for a sinful hot chocolate, and the Gucci Café if you’re feeling extra stylish). Enjoy a cappuccino with a side of Medici history before we plunge into (spoiler alert) the greatest political comeback in history.
The early years of the 16th century boded well for a Medici-free Florence. But with the appointment of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s son as Pope (Leo X), the Medici had the necessary support to wiggle their way back into the city in 1512. By 1532, Medici Pope Clement VII locked down his family’s rule in Florence by appointing the young Alessandro de’ Medici as Duke of the city.
With the reigns firmly back in Medici hands, it was time for the Medici to make their artistic rebuttal in Piazza della Signoria. The family hired Baccio Bandinelli to sculpt a statue of Hercules and Caucus to stand opposite of David. It was a pretty brazen metaphor of how the Medici planned to run the show. Nevertheless, when the statue was revealed, the public was amused rather than intimidated by the bulky statue with the bubble butt – much to the chagrin of the Medici.
Duke Alessandro’s career ended up being almost just as much of a mess his statue. His violent, tyrannical reign came to a halting screech when his cousin, Lorenzaccio (bad Lorenzo) plotted Alessandro’s assassination (via a weird, incestuous seduction that we won’t get into here). Proof that history repeats itself, it turns out nothing kicks up Medici support quite like an assassination. The people rallied behind Alessandro and turned against Lorenzaccio, who claimed to have been attempting to save the Republic from the Duke.
Without a legitimate heir, the Medici scrambled to fill their seat of power. A boy named Cosimo (yes, Cosimo) came to mind. Florentine noblemen were eager to put the naïve youngster in power, thinking they could really pull the strings from behind the scenes, as Cosimo il Vecchio had done a century before. Oh boy, were they wrong.
Duke Cosimo is our first favorite Medici at Florence for Free, and not even because he bore an uncanny resemblance to Justin Timberlake (ok, maybe a little?). He created political stability in Florence that had never been previously achieved. Head to the large statue of the man on horseback to see Giambologna’s depiction of Duke Cosimo himself.