Published: October 21, 2008
Two queens of France will return to Florence after centuries away. “Women in Power, Caterina and Maria de’ Medici” tells the story of one of the ways in which the two Medici queens of France used powerful images to legitimize their claims to rule over warring families and factions at a time when women in power were rare. The exhibit opens October 24 at the Palazzo Strozzi, where it will remain until February 8.
On June 30, 1559, the young Florentine bride of the French King Henri II suddenly found herself a widow †her dashing and headstrong 40-year-old husband was killed in a friendly joust by the young captain of his Scottish guard.
Caterina de’ Medici had lost a husband and was surrounded by enemies, each vying for power over her frail 15-year-old son Francis II, the new king of France. Caterina knew how important it was to keep and exercise power.
The exhibition brings 15 monumental tapestries portraying “The Story of Artemisia,” which are dedicated to Caterina de’ Medici (1519‸9). They were begun in the 1560s and completed in the early Seventeenth Century by Maria de’ Medici (1573-‱642), herself widowed by the brutal assassination of her husband Henri IV, as illustrations of the education of the ideal prince.
The tapestries, of different sizes but each more than 16 feet in height, became separated until 2005 when the seven tapestries owned by Mobilier National of Paris were joined by eight acquired by Chevalier Atelier.
The Artemisia tapestries are superb examples of the skill and dedication of the artisans in the royal tapestry workshops in Paris (later to become les Gobelins), who labored for years following the designs of some of the most gifted artists of the time, translating them into miracles of gold, silver and colored thread.
Other sections expand on the themes depicted by the tapestries as well as studying in depth the characters of the two de’ Medici queens through portraits and works of art loaned from various museums.
The Galleria degli Uffizi has loaned two paintings by Jacopo Chimenti called “l’Empoli” (1551‱640) depicting the marriages of Caterina to Henri II in 1553 and Maria to Henri IV in 1600. Portraits of Caterina by Santi de Tito (1536‱603) and Maria by Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569‱622) are included, as are a portrait of Maria at the age of 58 in 1631 by Anthony Van Dyck (1599‱641), from the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, and a Seventeenth Century cameo with portraits of Maria and Henri from the Musée du Louvre, are among loans from French museums.
Several curious pieces include a letter with one of Maria’s drawings, a small canvas that portrays her at an outdoor banquet with her husband Henri IV, a Seventeenth Century terracotta dish depicting Henri and his family and a precious jewelry collection. Other treasures include a rock crystal, silver gilt and enamel casket, 1532, and a rock crystal and enameled gold Diane de Poitiers cup, named after Henri II’s mistress, from the Museo degli Argenti in Florence.
The Palazzo Strozzi is at Piazza Strozzi. For information, www.palazzostrozzi.org or +39 055 277 6461.
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