A city accessorized with creations by the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli, Florence is the artistic envy of the western world. Every street glistens with artistic achievement, and there is no argument that the Medici had everything to do with it. Florence was their gallery, and for three centuries of power and wealth they filled its walls with art that, to this day, is considered to be some of the finest in the world. The family, however, no longer exists. So what ensured that the collection stayed? The answer is Anna Maria Luisa – the last Medici.
Tomorrow, February 18th, Florence celebrates Anna Maria Luisa’s achievements by inviting residents and tourists alike to visit civic museums free of charge. The yearly commemoration encourages us to appreciate the Medici art that Anna Maria ensured was kept in Florence.
Before you feast your eyes on some free art, let’s learn about the woman who truly gave us Florence for Free.
Anna Maria Luisa was born in 1667 to Grand Duke Cosimo III and Marguerite Louise d’Orleans. History agrees that Marguerite was a real sass that nobody liked (perhaps contributing to the Florentines’ disdain of the French). She actively attempted to publicly humiliate her husband at every chance she got and even tried to induce a miscarriage, by riding, when she found out that she was pregnant with Anna Maria. During little Anna Maria’s formative years, she lived in a Palazzo Pitti that was shaken with discord and bitter family feuds. Sure, she had Boboli for a backyard, but life was not happy in her home. Finally, to pretty much everyone’s relief, Cosimo sent Marguerite off to a convent in France when Anna Maria Luisa was only 7 years old, and she was never to be seen again in Florence.
Marguerite’s nasty reputation haunted her daughter. Anna Maria Luisa was practically impossible to marry off, as political figures feared signing up for a mini Marguerite. After four failed proposals, Johann Wilhelm finally agreed to marry Anna Maria Luisa in 1691. One miscarriage, and one upsetting diagnosis of syphilis later (Johann’s fault), Anna Maria Luisa accepted that she would never be able to produce an heir for her husband or a child to carry Medici blood.
When Johann died, Anna Maria Luisa returned to Italy. But Florence, now under the rule of her brother Gian Gastone, was still not a happy place for her. Gian Gastone despised his sister for various reasons and banished her from living in Palazzo Pitti (I mean you would think they could avoid each other in that place, but I guess it’s the sentiment he was after). She was sent to live at the Villa la Quiete (featured on our Villa Crawl). This poor gal, just when things were looking up!
Although her father’s dying wish was for Anna Maria Luisa to assume the throne after the death of her brother Gian Gastone, Europe didn’t seem to care. When Gian died, the House of Lorraine-Hapsburg came rushing in. Anna Maria Luisa was allowed to move back into Pitti at this time, but largely kept to herself. She spent her time finalizing details on her family church of San Lorenzo that featured the Medici tombs. .
Anna Maria’s single most important impact came with her signature on a simple piece of paper – the Patto di Famiglia. In this pact, Anna Maria Luisa bequeathed the art that her family accrued and commissioned over the previous three centuries to the State of Tuscany on one condition – that the art never leave Florence. Anna Maria Luisa’s foresight in insisting on such a pact was truly impressive. In doing so, she assured her family’s legacy, Florence’s role as an international center for the arts, and arguably set Florence’s tourism industry up for life. The pact is what kept the art in Florence that Meg and I moved there to study, and it probably has something to do with why you are in Florence now or you’re planning a trip there today. Anna Maria Luisa literally gave us the city of Florence for free. For obvious reasons, we are pretty darn obsessed with the gal.
To celebrate Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the city of Florence opens all civic museums to the public free of charge each year on the anniversary of her death, February 18th. So how about we all give Anna Maria Luisa a big high-five and go see her family’s art tomorrow, just as she would want us to.
Here are the details for this year’s event (please note that Santa Maria Novella is not offering free entry this year).