How Priceless Works of Art Remained in Florence, Italy

It is true that, walking through the forty museums of Florence, we often forget that what we are seeing once belonged to the private collection of the Medici family and we don’t even ask ourselves how is it that so many pieces of priceless works of Art stayed in their place. Other great collections in Italy, like that of the Gonzaga in Mantua, the Este in Ferrara, or even the Sforza in Milan, disappeared, either leaving by way of dowries, or with the eventual demise of the dynasty, and all you can see in the palaces now are murals. If you search, you can find bits and pieces of the collection scattered throughout Paris, London, Dresden or New York. So, what happened in Florence?

It was Maria-Luisa, the last of the Medici, who inherited everything from her brother when he died. She had no one to leave the estate to, so she did the most brilliant thing she could have thought of, she signed a will leaving everything to the new Grand Dukes, whom foreign powers sent to rule Tuscany, on the condition that not even one treasure ever leave Florence.

There was a portrait of her in the Palazzo Pitti, proudly displayed in a wing so that the remainder of the palace could be enjoyed by the newly-married couple, Frances and Marie-Thérèse, Dukes of Lorraine, who would arrive as the new governors of Florence. However, the couple didn’t stay long. Three months later, when the Emperor of Austria died, Marie-Thérèse was called to take up her father’s throne. 

They left a viceroy in charge and left for Vienna, accompanied by an entire convoy of carriages filled with artistic treasures. Surprised, the Florentines watched their cultural inheritance leaving, but were unable to do anything faced with regiments of the Austrian army.  Maria-Luisa had died – who was there to respect her last will and testament? Years later, when the second-born son of Marie-Thérèse arrived in Tuscany as Grand Duke, in a move to endear himself to the people, demanded of his brother, the Emperor of Austria, to return to the city a part of its cultural legacy.

An excerpt from the book: A YEAR IN TUSCANY

Jewels of the Medici Collection in Florence, Italy

Jewels of the Medici Collection in Florence, Italy

Maria-Luisa dei Medici, Florence, Italy

Maria-Luisa dei Medici, Florence, Italy

Barbara Athanassiadis