Eleonora da Toledo, the great lady of the sixteenth century

Eleonora da Toledo, the great lady of the sixteenth century

Time.news – The largest exhibition ever dedicated to the “Grand lady of the sixteenth century” kicks off in Florence: over 100 works, with significant international loans, including paintings, drawings, tapestries, dresses, jewels, precious stones will tell about life, personality and the extensive cultural impact of Eleanor of Toledo. Wife of Cosimo de’ Medici, who after her death became Grand Duke, Duchess and Regent of Florencepolitically influential woman, true founder of the Boboli Gardens as it is known today, but also an icon of beauty, Eleonora was the queen of fashion and costume of her time, a lover of art, a glittering (how rare) Renaissance symbol of power and female charisma.

Daughter of the viceroy of Naples, don Pedro de Toledo, Eleonora was endowed with extraordinary organizational skills and played a fundamental role in the construction of the Medici court, introducing the Spanish label in Florence, revolutionizing the fashion of the elite, contributing to the transformation of the Tuscan landscape. As ambitious as her husband, she will work with him to achieve important objectives: increase the stability of the state, guarantee the throne for the first son and the scarlet for the second, raise Cosimo to the grand ducal dignity, a goal achieved only following the death of Eleonora, who died of tuberculosis at the age of just forty. The maxi exhibition, organized by the Uffizi Galleries and curated by the art historian and professor at New York University Florence Bruce Edelstein, is visible from February 7 to May 14 in the sumptuous spaces of the Treasury of the Grand Dukes on the ground floor of the Pitti Palace. It is entitled Eleonora di Toledo and the invention of the Medici court in Florence and is divided into seven sections.

“As is well known – says the director of the Uffizi Galleries, Eike Schmidt – “the history of the Medici in Florence ended with a great woman, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, that on 31 October 1737 he signed the Family Pact, so that the artistic and cultural treasures of the dynasty were not sold and dispersed throughout the world but remained in the city and in Tuscany. No less important was the sovereign who laid the foundations of the principality in the sixteenth century, Eleonora di Toledo, whose commitment still determines the face of Florence today: just think of Palazzo Vecchio, adapted and decorated by some of the greatest painters of the time to house his apartments and where he went to live in 1540; to the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Pitti, purchased in February 1550 by the duchess with her own finances and transformed according to her personal design ideals and actively managed by her, as a real manager of the estate. Together with Vittoria Colonna, Eleonora was also one of the great female patrons, not only of artists but also of men of letters and philologists.

Not only. Like the Duchess of Mantua Isabella d’Este, even the Spaniard who moved to Florence had a penchant for clothing and was a real arbitra elegantarumalmost an Anna Wintour of the period”. The first chapter of the exhibition recounts Eleonora’s childhood in Naples, a very important metropolis at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Among the most important figures in her formation are obviously Eleonora’s parents: her father Pedro de Toledo, viceroy of Naples, extraordinary patron of palaces, villas and gardens, and her mother, Maria Osorio Pimentel, through whom her husband obtained the noble title of Marquis of Villafranca.The importance of Maria in the dynamics of the imperial court is confirmed by the fact that she was entrusted with the completion of the education of Margaret of Austria, illegitimate daughter of Charles V, in anticipation of her marriage to Alessandro de’ Medici, first duke of Florence.The marriage will be one of the most important events at the viceregal court of Naples in the winter of 1535-36, when the emperor entered the Neapolitan capital after his naval triumph in Tunis.

Eleonora’s entry into Florenceas the wife of Cosimo with whom she had previously married by proxy in Naples, it was great. Her arrival was celebrated with great magnificence and, thanks to this marriage, the entire Florentine society was able to establish itself on the international scene thanks to the prestige derived from the new ducal court. The re-enactment in the exhibition of the decorations made specifically for the celebrations can be offered through the display of drawings, musical scores, and other important works that the sources mention among those exhibited for the occasion in the courtyard of Palazzo Medici; the wedding rings are also on display, one of which was found in Eleonora’s tomb and is now kept in the Treasury of the Grand Dukes at the Uffizi. Eleonora had eleven children with Cosimo. The care of family interests and the birth of numerous offspring were among his main objectives.

The premature death of the first duke of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici, and the lack of legitimate heirs had given Cosimo the opportunity to be chosen as successor to the title with relative ease. The birth of their first daughter, Maria, took place the year after Eleonora’s arrival in the city. The male heir arrived second, after a propitious pilgrimage to the Franciscan sanctuary of La Verna and was called Francesco. In rapid succession, then came Isabella, future Duchess of Bracciano, Giovanni, who was to be elected cardinal, Lucrezia, who became Duchess of Ferrara, Garzia, Ferdinando, also first cardinal and then grand duke, and Pietro, a list to which must be added three children who died prematurely, Pietro known as “Pedricco”, Antonio and Anna. Eleonora played a fundamental role in the education of her children and carefully took care of their public image, perpetuating their memory through the execution of numerous portraits.

The Duchess was the inspirer of court commissions and he conversed extensively with artists of the caliber of Bronzino, Bachiacca, Salviati, Vasari and Stradano. Less than a year after her arrival and a little over a month after the birth of her eldest daughter Maria, Eleonora devoted herself energetically to the creation of a residence suited to the needs of the ducal court. The family stopped living in Palazzo Medici, moving to Palazzo Vecchio, where the project that would transform the old seat of the Signoria into the sumptuous residence of the ducal family and their servants was soon launched, with apartments reserved for prestigious guests of the court. Particular prominence is given in the exhibition to the Duchess’s interest in the works produced by the Medici Arazzeria, founded by Cosimo. The impact of Eleonora’s taste in the transformation of fashion in Florence was immense, through the imposition of clothes and clothing adopted in the Neapolitan court of her father, Don Pedro di Toledo.

Eleonora was directly responsible for the clothing choices of her children, her ladies, her husband and the entire court. Both for Francesco, who at only seven years of age undertook his first public mission going to Genoa to meet the future king of Spain Philip II, and for Giovanni on his trip to Rome in 1559 in the company of Vasari to collect his cardinal’s hat , it was always Eleonora who chose their clothes. The protagonists of these rooms are two double portraits by Bronzino in which the princess is accompanied in one by her eldest son Francesco and in the other by her second son Giovanni.

Eleonora played a role of great innovation not only in fashion but also in green development. The most important work commissioned by the Duchess was undoubtedly the Boboli Gardens. Eleonora’s love for these spaces stemmed from her childhood in Naples, where her father had commissioned some princely residences for which new types of gardens had been created. In Tuscany Eleonora and Cosimo would assiduously frequent the villas of Poggio a Caiano as well as that of Castello, delighting there with various types of hunting and fishing.

In Castello, the young princes were probably instructed in bird hunting by the famous court dwarf Morgante and this activity was also carried out in Boboli. The passion for gardens and extra-urban life is closely related to an economic strategy aimed at significantly increasing the Medici family’s estates, making them profitable through the cultivation of wheat.

The last chapter of the exhibition is dedicated to posthumous fortune of Eleonora and her cultural legacy. From portraits that perpetuate her memory as Cosimo’s consort (after he had obtained the grand ducal title), to later depictions that show her aged and suffering, or thriving and young, as she appears in the very famous portrait of Bronzino with her son Giovanni.

Among Eleonora’s numerous cultural legacies in the religious field, we can certainly include the support given to the Jesuits in Florence, which will sanction its success, later endorsed by Bartolomeo Ammannati, architect of Palazzo Pitti, and his wife Laura Battiferri, a famous poet closely linked to the Duchess, and the foundation by will of a monastery for noblewomen dedicated to the Most Holy Conception.


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