1. The Medici: portraits of power and propaganda: 1518-1570

From an exhibition  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021:

90 painted portraits, sculpted portraits, reliefs, books and manuscripts, medals and cameos,and drawings. 


Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512-1570

Here a few painted and sculpted portraits of the family.


The dates for the Medici in this post are:  


(Lorenzo de’ Medici (the Magnificent), 1449-1492, reigned 1469-1492)

Pope Leo X (Giovanni, son of Lorenzo de’ Medici),1475-1521

Pope Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici, nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent), 1478-1534

Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici, 1479-1516,(son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and brother of Pope Leo X); reigned 1513-1516

Lorenzo II de’ Medici, 1492-1519, reigned 1516-1519

Giovanni delle Bande Nere (father of Cosimo I), 1498-1526

Alessandro de’ Medici, 1510-1537, reigned 1532-1537

Cosimo I de’ Medici, 1519-1574, reigned 1537-1569

Eleonora de Toledo (wife of Cosimo I), 1522-1562 

Francesco I de’ Medici (son of Cosimo I), 1541-1587, reigned 1574-1587

Cardinal Giovanni di Cosimo de’ Medici, (son of Cosimo I),1544-1562



In brief: Florence had a long history as a republic.

However, its 15th century was dominated by the Medici.  When Lorenzo de’ Medici (the Magnificent) died in 1492, the Medici heirs were exiled, the palace sacked. 


1512:  the Medici gained control again of Florence.

1527:  Rome was sacked.  With the power of the Medici pope, Clement VII, in decline, a republic was again established in Florence. 

1529:  Imperial troops laid seige to Florence which surrendered in 1530. 

1532:  With Clement VII now reconciled with the Emperor Charles, Florence’s constitution was rewritten and Alessandro de’ Medici was installed as its governor.  He instituted authoritarian rule.


1537:  Cosimo became Duke of Florence.

By this time, the Medici family had survived exile, financial ruin, assassinations, conspiracies, a short-lived Republic and the murder of the predecesor of Cosimi I, Alessandro.


From 1532 for a period of two hundred years, Florence was governed by a succession of Medici dukes until the extinction of the male line in 1737.



This exhibition was centered on the time and circle of Cosimo I. 


It sought to show – through portraiture – the change from the austere artistic style of the republic to mannerism which suited the pointed political messaging of the Medici.


The Met reminded that these portraits are not primarily about the subject’s actual appearance.


They were intended to display a message  about the legitimacy and success of Medici rule and the cultural sophistication of the Medici clan.


These portraits are ‘synthetic’: private portraits wrapped (masked) within images created for public consumption.




this photo from the net

Cosimo I de’Medici, 1546-47, bronze.

Benvenuto Cellini.  Loaned by the Museo Nazionnale del Bargello, Florence to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


A more than life size scultpure, Cosimo I’s armour harkens back to that of Roman emperors: eagles being the symbol of Augustan Rome. 

Lions are the symbol of republican Florence and trumpets meant fame in classical Greece and Rome. The eyes were silvered, a practice dating back to ancient Rome.



Not even 19 when he became duke, ruthless and brilliant, Cosimo I established a dynasty, consolidated the institutions of governance and expanded the territory of the state. 

He used Florence’s intellectual history and the mastery of her artists to associate his dynasty with her culture and thus to enhance the prestige of his rule.





Cosimo I de Medici, Duke of Florence as Orpheus, oil on panel, 1537-39.

Angelo Bronzini. Philadelphia Museum of Art


A painting meant for private viewing only, this is a representation of Cosimo I quite different from his portrayals as soldier and leader and shows that the imaginative ambition of this ruler in the matter of his self-image was equal to that of his political and territorial ambitions.



The artists in this post are:


Sebastiano del Piombo, 1475-1547

Raphael, 1483-1520

Jacopo da Pontormo, 1494-1556

Benvenuto Cellini,1500-1571

Bronzino, 1503-1572

Francesco Salviati, 1510-1573

Alessandro Allori, 1535-1607




Jacopo da Pontormo, c. 1535-40, black chalk on paper. 

Bronizino. Loaned by the Uffizi, Florence to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


The artist’s portrayal of his teacher and life-long friend in a pose based on one of Michelangelo’s in the Medici Chapel.





Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, c. 1518, oil on canvas. 

Raphael.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 


The nephew of Pope Leo X, Lorenzo governed Florence for periods from 1515 to 1519.  He died before producing a legitimate heir and failed to fulfil the role of the Prince of Nicolo Machiavelli’s celebrated political treatise.





Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici, duke of Nemours, tempera and oil on canvas, 1515. 

Workshop of Raphael. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


Giuliano was 15 when the Medici were exiled from Florence in 1494.

In 1512, his brother, Cardinal Giovanni (soon to be Pope Leo X) made him de facto ruler of Florence, a position he ceded to his nephew, Lorenzo, one year later.






Pope Clement VII, c. 1525-26, oil on canvas.

Sebastiano del Piombo.  Loaned by the Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


This likeness of the Medici pope remained with the painter until the painter’s death as a result, it is presumed, of the sack of Rome in 1527 and the re-establishment of the Florentine Republic and the exile of the Medici. 

The pope grew a beard after the sack of Rome in mourning and the likeness was no longer such.





Alessandro de’ Medici, 1534-35, oil on panel. Jacopo da Pontormo. 

Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2021 by the Philadelphia Art Museum


Alessandro de’ Medici was the son either of Lorenzo de’ Medici or of the future Clement VII, and of a servant, possibly enslaved, of African descent.  He was murdered five years after he became ruler of Florence in 1532 and was succeeded by Cosimo I. 


He is drawing a picture of a woman, a refined and delicate gesture which did not  salvage his reputation as an autocrat nor save his history from being submerged in the narrative expounded by the Medici.





Gioivanni delle Bande Nere, c. 1546-48, oil on panel.  

Francesco Salviati.  Loaned by the Uffizi, Florence to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021. 

Not a member of the main branch of the Medici family, Giovanni delle Bande Nere was the father of Cosimo I de ‘Medici.  He was a famous soldier who had fought for the French, for Leo X and for the emperor Charles V. 

This is a posthumous portrait to recast his features to resemble those of his son.





Cosimo I de’Medici in Armor, c. 1545, oil on panel. 

Bronzino.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


The armor was a gift from Ferdinand, the brother of Emperor Charles V. 

There are 30 known versions of this portrait which were sent to foreign courts and important people as part of Cosimo’s policy of establishing himself and his family as important players in international politics.





Cosimo I de’Medici, carved c. 1550-1551, finished after 1571, marble. 

Benvenuto Cellini, (possibly completed in the studio of Giambologna (1529-1608).  Loaned by the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021






Cosimo I de Medici (Cosimo at 40), 1560, oil on panel.

Bronzino.  Loaned by a private collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021


The subject became the ruler of a unified Tuscan state with the defeat of Siena in 1555.  The letter he is holding signifies his attention to affairs of state. 





Eleonora di Toledo, c, 1539-40, oil on panel. 

Bronzino.  Loan by the Nerodni Gallery, Prague to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


The daughter of the viceroy of Naples, Eleonora was 17 when she was married to Cosimo de’ Medici.  

Mother of 11 children, she was an active patron of the arts.  Here shown with the pearls which she loved – pearls were associated with female beauty – and richly embellished silk.





Garzia de’ Medici (1547-1552), oil on panel. 

Bronzino.  The Prado, Madrid loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


The ninth child of Cosimo de Medici and his wife, Eleonora, died of malaria when the family went to the hunt in the Tuscan Maremma coastal marshlands. 

The pendant crystal is a charm against witches and the ring set with wood, antler or bone with gold mounts for teething.






Eleanora di Toledo and Francesco de’ Medici, c. 1550, oil on panel.  Bronzino. 

Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, Pisa loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021


The eldest son of Cosimo I and Eleanora di Toledo. 

An empathetic affinity of hands between mother and son: she with her hand on her pregnant belly and he pointing to his heart.





Francesco de’ Medici, c. 1551. oil on panel.

Bronzino.  Loan of the Uffizi, Florence to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021. 


Francesco de’ Medici is posed at 10 as a budding intellectual, wise beyond his age.

Copies of this portrait were to be sent to the courts of Europe as part of the strategy of his father, Cosimo I, to establish his family’s credibility and stability.





Francesco I de’ Medici, c. 1570. oil on canvas.

Alessandro Allori.  Loan from the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021. 


After Cosimo I had consolidated the Tuscan state and obtained the title of Grand Duke, he abdicated in favour of his son, Francesco. 

It is thought that this portrait was painted after Francisco’s marriage to Joanna of Austria, the cousin of King Philip II of Spain because of the similarity of the pose here to a state portrait of the Spanish king.





photo above from the net

Saint John the Baptist (Portrait of Giovanni de’ Medici), 1560-61, oil on panel. 

Bronzino. Loan by the Galleria Borghese to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


This was painted in 1560 probably to celebrate the appointment by Pope Pius IV of the 16-year old son of Cosimo I, Giovanni, to be a cardinal.

St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence.


An astonishing image: serene, alert, authoritative, sensuous, austere, far-seeing, supremely self-contained.

All at once.




The Medici coat of arms as it has remained for some centuries







4 thoughts on “1. The Medici: portraits of power and propaganda: 1518-1570

  1. What a beautiful series of portraits. I knew some of them but I had never seen others before. In addition, the photos of the details highlight particulars that could go unnoticed.
    Thanks a lot, Sarah ❣️

  2. Thanks for your appreciation, Luisa. We are fortunate to have been able to see these works close. Nothing you can forget your whole life! Sarah

  3. I’m bookmarking this for quick retrieval. Your Medici posts are prompting me to reread Barbara Tuchman’s book ‘The March of Folly” – specifically the section ‘The Renaissance Popes Provoke The Protestant Secession: 1470-1530. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for taking a look at this. I remember Barbara Tuchman if not this book. Should prove enlivening even on a re-reading! Sarah

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