Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2009.09.72 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.09.72

Andrea M. Gáldy, Cosimo I de' Medici as Collector: Antiquities and Archaeology in Sixteenth-century Florence.   Newcastle:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.  Pp. xxvi, 571.  ISBN 9781443801720.  £54.99.  

Reviewed by Natalia Agapiou, École pratique des hautes études (

[Author and table of contents are listed at the end of the review.]

The book under review is the 2002 doctoral dissertation of classical archaeologist Andrea Gáldy, from the School of Art History and Archaeology of the University of Manchester; its original title was 'Con bellissimo ordine': Antiquities in the Collection of Cosimo I de' Medici and Renaissance Archaeology.

The book is divided into two sections; the first section (Part I and Part II) serves as an introduction to the second section, an extensive Appendix of Archival Material and the Catalogue raisonné of Cosimo I's Medici collection of antiquities.

Part I consists of 3 chapters. Chapter One presents Cosimo, son of Giovanni delle Bande Nere and Maria Salviati (granddaughter of Lorenzo il Magnifico), who succeeded Alessandro de' Medici after his assassination in early 1537. Cosimo was a ruler whose political future seemed uncertain and who nevertheless managed not only to consolidate his power and enlarge his dominion, but also to ensure the future of the Medici dynasty for the next two centuries. After the main biographical data -- among which it is worth singling out the foundation in 1540 of the 'Accademia degli Umidi', which Cosimo used as an instrument of propaganda, and his relationship with the Papacy, especially with Pius V Ghislieri who created him Grand Duke in 1569 -- we are offered an overview of the first ducal residences: first, the Palazzo Medici at the then Via Larga, which after Margherita d'Austria's (Alessandro's wife) departure was almost emptied of its precious content, and, second, the Palazzo della Signoria, that now took the name of Palazzo Ducale, which contained the Duke's Guardaroba, the first storage room of his collection, and the Salone dei Cinquecento, whose ceiling was decorated with his Apotheosis devised by Vasari. We also get a first glimpse of the Palazzo Pitti bought by Cosimo I's wife, the duchess Eleonora di Toledo, in 1549.

Chapter Two focuses on Cosimo as a collector: first, it lists, rather succinctly, the problematic -- as most of them are not objective or are characterized by "poor quality of information" (p. 33) -- contemporary sources. Among them it is worth mentioning the 'relazione' of Vincenzo Fedeli, ambassador of Venice in Florence, who in 1560-61 gives us what seems an accurate testimony of Cosimo I's cultural politics. Next comes a survey of Cosimo's collection and its initial places of safekeeping, such as the "idiosyncratic" Sala delle Carte Geografiche of the Palazzo Ducale, and three rooms in the Palazzo Pitti, among which the so called "Sala delle figure" that was to become the famous Sala delle Nicchie. The chapter ends with a subchapter on the origins and fate of the Medici collection since the days of Cosimo Pater Patriae, and on its development and categories of objects.

Chapter Three is dedicated to the main two display rooms of the collection: the Scrittoio della Calliope and the Sala delle Nicchie. First is examined the Scrittoio della Calliope, Cosimo's study room in the Palazzo Ducale, strangely enough abandoned a few years after its completion. This subchapter also contains a brief history of the scrittoio or studiolo as architectural element and a presentation of the studioli of the previous and subsequent Medici; such as the one used by Cosimo's reclusive son, Francesco, decorated with invenzioni by Vincenzo Borghini. Gáldy next focuses on the group of objects exhibited in this room that she calls the Tuscan Museum, mainly "anticaglie di bronzo e di terra" (p. 79) created by ancient and contemporary Tuscans (its nucleus being a set of Etruscan bronzetti from Arezzo), whose role was to propagate the idea of the superiority of the Tuscans over the rest of the Italian peoples. The second part of the chapter deals with the Sala delle Nicchie in Palazzo Pitti, this one differentiated by its marked interest in Roman antiquities, as it was the place of exhibition of the marble statues that ended here thanks to Pius V's desire to purge Rome of profane art. Here again we are offered the history of this type of Sala, defined as an androne, starting with François I's galerie in Fontainebleau and the galaria in Palazzo Capodiferro-Spada in Rome.

Part II consists of one chapter only, Chapter Four, which attempts to give an answer to how ancient art was perceived during the Renaissance. Here we get a flashback into the first encounters with antiquities during the late Middle Ages, and a survey of evolving attitudes towards the various ancient styles. Giovanbattista Adriani's 1567 letter to Vasari in which he attempts to delineate the different styles (Egyptian, Greek, Roman) is one of the most interesting texts quoted here. Particular attention is then given to Etruscan art and to Cosimo I's Chimera, the most celebrated piece of his collection, which brings us to the foundation of Florence and to the fictive ancestry of the Tuscans who, according to the infamous Annio da Viterbo, were descendants of Noah/Janus. We are next offered a series of subchapters on the various Florentine antique monuments and the stories woven around them, and Part II closes with an analysis of the influence of the Council of Trent on the course of non-Christian art (" there was nothing that could be interpreted as a battle cry against remains", Gáldy observes) and with a survey of the less well-known development of Christian archaeology.

In the Conclusion, Gáldy states: " it has been the intention to show in this study that the anticaglie owned by Cosimo played a more varied role than has so far been ascribed to them". She here explains her thesis that the intellectuals who revolved around Cosimo, "despite sometimes being duped or setting out to dupe others" (p. 196), did nevertheless have a genuine interest in the antiquities of Florence and Tuscany and a shared desire to get a better picture of ancient Etruria.

The Appendix of Archival Material and the Catalogue spans 259 pages and thus form the largest part of the volume. The archival material, part of which is published for the first time, is divided into four sections following the development of the collection: 1539-1559 (up to the installation of the Scrittoio della Calliope in the Palazzo Ducale); 1560-August 1569 (up to the creation of Cosimo I Grand Duke of Tuscany); September 1569-1574 (up the death of Cosimo I); and a last, short one 1577-1597. The Catalogue raisonné examines 102 antiquities of the collection. The book is completed with an extensive bibliography in the main European languages and with 81 illustrations.

Part I, certainly the part dealing with the most problematic material, is the weakest part of the volume. The author does not manage to mould into an efficient narrative the otherwise impressive documentation she undoubtedly masters. There are many topics Gáldy refers to in a fragmentary way -- often repetitively -- that would have made for a more agreeable reading had they been turned into brief pieces of narration: e.g. Cosimo I's choice to identify himself with Augustus or the Etruscan ruler Porsenna, the mythology developed around him, or his relationship with pope Pius V and his trip to Rome which played such an instrumental role to the enrichment of his collection. Is she here a victim of the temptation to "copy and paste", as many Ph.D. students are today? This lack of continuity is felt even more when one strives to follow from chapter to chapter the wanderings of the collection through the various palazzi; the reader would have been helped if more plans of the places of display were included, especially modern renderings. Also, it would have been better if a chronological order had been followed in most cases; for instance if the origins of the Medici collection were presented at the beginning and not at the end of Chapter Two. But what is missing, above all, is a concise presentation into the body of the text itself of the material listed in the Appendix, to inform the reader who starts from page 1 of what is going to follow: which are the main sources for the collection and which the most important textual testimonies and why -- what one gets instead is mere hints about inventories "a capi" (p. 49, 81) and a great number of very interesting excerpts without enough information of their real value in each context.

Part II makes an easier and more enjoyable read, especially the stories of Florentine monuments. In this part, Gáldy's thesis -- i.e. that there was indeed a genuine interest in antiquities among the contemporaries of Cosimo I -- is well supported by evidence. It would have been interesting here to have some information on the extent of use of forgeries and on how they were perceived.

Regarding the pieces of the collection that are chosen for inclusion into the Catalogue, there is, we think, a methodological problem. On p. 48, Gáldy informs us: "I have attempted to match up the single pieces in the various documents by giving them a serial number in the Appendix". Indeed, on p. 201, we read that these serial numbers consist of a sequence of three letters followed by a four-digit number: " the first letter refers to the age of the object, the letter a means ancient, the letter d means it could be modern/all'antica, e means it is definitely all'antica, but appears in the Catalogue". Finally, on p. 359 we are told "Originally, it was my intention to consider only ancient or all'antica pieces from the two collection rooms for the Catalogue but there are a few exceptions to the rule the reason for which becomes clear in the relevant Catalogue entry". Still, the criteria according to which this catalogue is made are not clear; there is certainly some explanation but it is not spelled out. What becomes somehow clear is that the catalogue also contains modern objects that, for instance, are "taken for an antiquity" (p. 374) or "kept in Cosimo's days with the anticaglie" (p. 375) or "displayed with his other Etruscan/Tuscan pieces" (p. 384).

It is in the Catalogue though that archaeologist Gáldy excels. Her entries are very readable, enriched with vivid details, and they exhibit a profound knowledge not only of the history of each item once it entered the collection, but also of the routes followed before it ended in Cosimo's hands. Here, she makes an efficient use of sources both primary and modern, and her expertise in the matter is everywhere evident. One readily appreciates, for example, her charts 80 and 81 of the Illustrations section, which classify the objects according to material, provenance and category (though, an analysis of these charts in the Introduction of the Catalogue would have been welcome).

As for the physical aspect of the publication, the book at first glance seems a very appealing format with its width slightly larger than in the usual in-octavos. Yet, unfortunately, once one starts reading, the volume falls apart -- in my case, all pages up to 163 ended up loose. Given that right now the book seems to be "temporarily out of stock", we hope that Cambridge Scholars Publishing plans a better binding in order to do justice both to the author and to prospective buyers.

In conclusion, the author has invested a considerable amount of time in transcribing and studying the archival material, in identifying the various pieces of the collection under study and in trying to make sense of a collection with quite a complicated history. The documentation is sound and the bibliography exhaustive. Gáldy's most important contribution to the scholarship on this topic is above all the catalogue raisonné she proposes for Cosimo I's collection and the archival material she brings to light, which informs us on the origins of some of the most important museums in the world: the Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti.

Table of Contents

Part I

Chapter One: The Prince

1.1 Family and Career 3

1.2 The Palazzi: Organisation and decoration 8

Chapter Two: Cosimo I as Collector

2.1. Contemporary Sources 29

2.2. Cosimo I's Collection of Antiquities 34

Chapter Three: Two Special Display Rooms

3.1. The Scrittoio della Calliope 61

Inspired by the Muses 61

The Tuscan Museum 78

3.2. The Sala delle Nicchie 84

The Lure of Rome 85

A Florentine Belvedere 90

Part II

Chapter Four: The Collection and Contemporary Archaeology

4.1. Art and Antiquities: Reaction and Interaction 111

Rediscovering Ancient Art 112

Greek, Roman, Etruscan Defining Styles 121

4.2. Ancient Florence in the Eyes if Renaissance Florentines 133

The Foundation of Florence 133

Archaeological Evidence Known in the Sixteenth Century 137

4.3. Impact of the Counter-Reformation 150

The Council of Trent 151

Development of Christian Archaeology 162

Conclusion 193

Appendix of Archival material 199

Catalogue 359

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