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A Tale of Two Tassels - Raphael and Holbein in The National Gallery, London

March 3, 2017

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The Medici Chapel, Florence

The Medici Chapel in Florence was one of those places I've dreamed of visiting for as long as I can remember. All my pics are from the same one room designed by Michelangelo - ALL of it - the architectural elements, walls, floors, statues and sarcophagi... all of it, designed by the Master. Most of the sculptures aren't entirely finished, like a lot of the marble figures by him you'll find in Florence, b/c he was continually called away from nearly every project he began by NINE popes in a row. "Stop what you're doing for the last guy because you work for me now!" Also because he had no great love for the Medici family by the time he was called upon to complete these tombs and this is the Medici Chapel.

 

He'd been in the middle of laboring on them when Florence ousted the Medici family (one of whom happened to be Pope at the moment; as well as his childhood friend and fellow Florentine) and Florence declared themselves a Republic for the umpteenth time. Being that "the Medici Tombs" were essentially propaganda pieces for a family which Michelangelo no longer agreed with politically and actively sided against when it came to war... this put the project in a bit of a 'cooling off' mode. He was part of a council of citizens responsible for defending Florence from a siege when the pope tried to take back the city in the name of the Medici. His defenses not only held but did so remarkably well. Even when the Romans brought French artillery (huge cannons which were like the H-bombs of their era), Michelangelo's defense was impenetrable.  Eventually the city did fall but only because they were starved out... if there were means for food production inside the city they'd probably still be holed up.

 

Michelangelo was able to successfully deflect cannon fire using mattresses and plotting angles and trajectories; as well as all other attacks. When the city fell however he had to hide; they killed every other member of the council. Literally every one of his comrades and compatriots was slaughtered for their trouble. He hid for MONTHS in a cramped room beneath these tombs which was known only to him, presumably where he used to take breaks in secret while working on the tomb's construction during happier times. Someone had to have brought him food while he hid there, prisoner, in a tiny room beneath a hated tomb. And it was so well hidden that it wasn't found until the 20th century... with charcoal doodles all over the walls drawn by a captive, bored, Michelangelo.

 

Eventually the pope agreed to forgive the great artist so he came out of hiding but his secret room beneath the tomb remained hidden. They told him to continue to work on this tomb but Michelangelo, already in his 50's, didn't trust the pope's Medici cousins and family members who just returned to Florence. One, in particular, had vowed to kill Michelangelo sooner or later and he took the threat seriously enough to disappear in the night and flee to Rome. For good. Never again in life to return to his beloved Republic. It would be nearly 30 years he continued to toil in Rome, always considering himself first a Florentine.

 

Michelangelo grew up during the absolute high-point of Medici rule. when Lorenzo "The Magnificent" was the patriarch and ruler of Florence and he benefitted personally by being invited to live with the family and dine with them and study sculpture in their garden as a 15 year old boy. But his allegiances seem to have shifted somewhat when his great patron Lorenzo died.

 

This Medici chapel, and these tombs, are meant to commemorate a different Lorenzo - the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent (although the tomb is often mistaken for that of his more famous grandfather). Buried opposite the younger Lorenzo is his Uncle Giuliano (who was the youngest son of the more famous/grandfather Lorenzo, but his remains are often mistaken for his own more famous Uncle; his father's brother; who bore the same name and was killed in the Pazzi conspiracy).

 

The Medici Chapel is actually three architecturally distinct buildings in one. There are 2 chapels joined to an older, original building. Brunelleschi built the first; Michelangelo built the 2nd (The New Sacristy); and the 3rd came along about 100 years later, in the 1600's. All of it exists for one reason: to trumpet and laud the name of the Medici family. They were the preeminent Florentine family of the renaissance and they had a finger in every pie. They were scourged from Florence when their influence grew larger than the Republic itself... then came back... then were scourged again... then came back; their story is insane and filled with real characters. Future popes, princes and princesses sit at dinner tables alongside the likes of a 16 year old Michelangelo in the home of Lorenzo The Magnificent - it's worth researching!

 

 

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