A Tuscan Grand Duchy: The Long Snore

The Long Snore

Cosimo I’s descendants continued to rule Florence and Tuscany in a pretty even, if uneventful, manner. Florence had already begun its long economic decline as a European power. The grand dukes became increasingly pretentious but for the most part harmless. Most did uphold the family intellectual tradition of patronizing the arts (unfortunately, many had a remarkable lack of good taste) and defending the sciences.

It was largely due to Cosimo II’s protection that Pisan scientist Galileo wasn’t outright executed by the Inquisition for his heretical view that Earth revolved around the sun.

The 49-year reign of the bookish if generally genial Ferdinando II was marked by nothing so much as a desire not to get involved in any nasty international affairs.

The worst were men like the prudish glutton Cosimo III, a religious fanatic, money scrimper, and persecutor of Jews.

The last Medici grand duke was Gian Gastone, an obese sensualist who spent the few hours he wasn’t passed out in a wine-sodden stupor playing with nubile young men in bed. The Grand Duke barely showed his face outside the Pitti Palace—except on one memorable carriage ride through town to prove he was alive, during which he occupied himself by vomiting out the window

No one mourned Gian Gastone's passing in 1737, when the grand dukedom passed to the Austrian Lorraine family, married into the Medici line for years. The Lorraines ruled with a much heavier hand and, even worse, a general disregard for traditional Florentine values. The citizens found themselves almost missing the Medici.

Gian Gastone was survived by his sister, Anna Maria de’ Medici, a devout and dignified lady who, on her 1743 death, willed that the new Lorraine grand dukes would inherit the Medici’s vast and mind-bogglingly valuable collection of art, manuscripts, furniture, books, and jewelry.

She had only two conditions: none of it could ever be removed from Florence, and it all had to be made available to the public.

The works of art filling the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace, and the Bargello are just the beginning of the artistic legacy Anna Maria created for Florence. It was her generosity that helped turn Florence into one of the world’s greatest museums and a tourist mecca.

Thank you, Anna Maria.