By Marisa Garreffa
Lisa Kaborycha speeds us through the legacy of the Medici women at The British Institute of Florence
We thought no one could cram more history into a single hour than The Medici Dynasty Show, but art historian Lisa Kaborycha has officially outdone us, and we could listen to her speak about the Medici forever. On Thursday, August 3rd we were invited by Jeremy Boudreau, the head of History of Art at The British Institute of Florence, to sit in as guests for the final lecture of one of their summer courses.
We settled into the heavenly air-conditioning to hear Lisa Kaborycha discuss “The Medici Matronage” – the vast impact the Medici women had on the political and artistic landscape of both Florence and around the world.
“Whoever wants to do things as they wish ought to take care not to be born a woman.”
Nannina de’ Medici to her mother Lucrezia Tornabuoni, 12 July 1479
So begins Lisa’s talk, framing a worthwhile celebration of the achievement of women with the very stark picture of just how restricted the lives of all women were, even those born into the powerful Medici family. Their lives were rigidly controlled and determined by the availability of marriages and dowry. Indeed, Lisa tells us, by the mid 15th century as many as half of all noble women were living in convents, the cheaper alternative to expensive marriage dowries and the only other option for women at the time.
“Florence was the single worst place to be born a woman during the Italian Renaissance.”
Historian Sam Cohn
So what were some of the contributions of these powerful Medici women, both born and married into the family that ruled for nearly three centuries? Lucrezia Tornabuoni was a poet in her own right, while patronising famed Italian poets Luigi Pulci, Feo Belcari, and Bernardo Bellincioni. Alfonsina Orsini completed the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano. Duchess Eleonora of Toledo purchased the Pitti Palace, built the Boboli Gardens, and produced the heirs that secured the next 200 years of rule by the Medici. Marie de’ Medici constructed the Palais du Luxembourg in an imitation of the family’s own Pitti Palace design. And of course, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici changed history with her Patto di Famiglia, securing the patrimony of the Medici in Florence and wider Tuscany for all time. This is only a sample, multiple Medici women were Patrons of the Arts and leaders who used their dowries to purchase land and power to elevate the status of their husbands and families.
A simple blog cannot do justice to the wealth of knowledge that poured from Lisa Kaborycha in a single hour – an hour that could easily expand to fill an entire semester’s worth of study into the remarkable women of the Medici. I urge you to investigate the fascinating history programs run by The British Institute of Florence, where you’ll have the chance to learn from the best Renaissance historians. We’re totally hooked; waiting for the Cultural Program to start again in September and ordering every one of Lisa’s books now. See you there!