The Sage Princess

Meet the woman who ‘made Florence’ at Il Fuligno, one of the city’s ‘se­cret’ gems. By Jane For­tune

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Lo­cated on the far-too-busy Via Faenza, en route to the train sta­tion and just steps from the San Lorenzo district, you’ll find the lit­tle-known Il Fuligno com­plex whose de­con­se­crated baroque church Sant’Onofrio hosts an en­gag­ing the­atre­based trib­ute to Floren­tine cul­ture. ‘The Medici Dy­nasty Show’ is a two-ac­tor ex­trav­a­ganza that spans three cen­turies and spot­lights a ques­tion par­tic­u­larly close to my heart: Who can we thank for mak­ing Florence what it is to­day?

Michelan­gelo and Pon­tormo. Leonardo and Brunelleschi. Donatello. Bot­ti­celli. Their art is para­mount to the city’s iden­tity. But most do not know is that none of their works would be in the city to­day if it were not for one woman, known as the Sage Princess, Anna Maria Luisa, the last of the Medici heirs.

Anna Maria Luisa has been at the fore­front of my thoughts since Fe­bru­ary of last year when a dis­tant, mod­ern-day branch of the Medici clan gifted her por­trait com­mis­sioned in 1745 to Florence’s Palazzo Vec­chio. Be­cause of my work with Ad­vanc­ing Women Artists (AWA), a US foun­da­tion that re­searches, con­serves and ex­hibits art by women in Florence, I was ap­proached by Palazzo Vec­chio’s cu­ra­tor who won­dered if I’d like to per­son­ally spon­sor a pro­ject that would re­store the paint­ing to its orig­i­nal dig­nity. Once fin­ished, it will be dis­played in Palazzo Vec­chio’s Re­ceiv­ing Room, where the Mayor wel­comes diplo­mats from all over the world.

The Medici Dy­nasty Show is set on June 24, 1737, the day on which Anna Maria Luisa en­tered the Palazzo Pitti through a se­cret pas­sage, for she had been banned from the palace for 14 years by Gian Ga­s­tone, her peren­ni­ally ine­bri­ated brother, re­mem­bered al­most solely for his wild aban­don. As one of the two heir­less chil­dren of Cosimo III, she in­sisted they de­vise a way to keep the Aus­tri­ans from dis­man­tling all that the Medici had achieved dur­ing their 300-year stint as Florence’s lead­ers.

Anna Maria Luisa was in­deed a for­ward-think­ing in­di­vid­ual, which may ex­plain why their fa­ther had is­sued a de­cree that, after her brother’s death, she

It is thanks to Anna Maria Luisa that the city’s art was not sold off piece by piece to sup­port the in­debted Aus­tri­ans. It is purely to her credit that Florence has be­come the tourist des­ti­na­tion it is to­day

would rule the Grand Duchy de­spite her gen­der, a pro­nounce­ment that was bla­tantly ig­nored by Euro­pean pow­ers. Though she did not have the power to pre­vent the Medici pat­ri­mony from pass­ing into the hands of the Hab­s­burg-Lor­raine, she de­vised a ‘Fam­ily Pact’ mak­ing it un­law­ful to sell or re­move any of this prop­erty from Tus­cany, where it would re­main to ‘or­na­ment’ the state, to ‘ben­e­fit’ the pub­lic and to ‘at­tract the cu­rios­ity of for­eign­ers’. Thus, it is thanks to Anna Maria Luisa that the city’s art was not sold off piece by piece to sup­port the in­debted Aus­tri­ans. It is purely to her credit that Florence has be­come the tourist des­ti­na­tion it is to­day.

The one-hour play, con­ceived, pro­duced and acted by a hand­ful of creative per­son­al­i­ties from Italy, Aus­tralia, Eng­land, Ar­gentina and the United States, is not just a form of edu­tain­ment, but per­fect for both Florence ‘vet­er­ans’ and new­com­ers. It also pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to know and love Il Fuligno, the former re­li­gious com­plex that hosts the show and truly steals the heart.

What can Il Fuligno tell us about Re­nais­sance women?

Re­dis­cov­er­ing the for­got­ten women artists of Tus­cany and restor­ing their works is my life’s mis­sion, and while work­ing to re­cover their sto­ries, the greater con­text of the his­tory of Floren­tine women is un­veiled. In the Re­nais­sance, over 50 per­cent of the city’s no­ble­women - half of its lit­er­ate fe­male pop­u­la­tion - lived in con­vents such as Il Fuligno, which was known as the ‘Con­vent of Countesses’ be­cause so many of its sis­ters were of no­ble blood.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, early con­vents in Florence were cen­tres of learn­ing and art pro­duc­tion, not solely the re­pres­sive re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions we are tempted to con­sider them to­day. To­day, the com­plex is man­aged by Monte­do­mini, a re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing so­cial ser­vices and health­care. In its hey­day, Fuligno was sup­ported by one of Florence’s most en­light­ened sons, Lorenzo, the Mag­nif­i­cent, the very leader who put the pro­duc­tion of cul­tural trea­sures be­fore any of the power strug­gles that plagued Europe dur­ing his time. You’ll re­mem­ber, for ex­am­ple, that it was Il Mag­nifico who rec­og­nized the 14-year-old Michelan­gelo’s bur­geon­ing tal­ents on a walk through his sculp­tural works in the San Marco work­shops.

Schol­ars through the ages, par­tic­u­larly Swiss his­to­rian Ja­cob Bur­ck­hardt, rec­og­nize Anna Maria Luisa as the true heir to Lorenzo, the Mag­nif­i­cent. Though more than two hun­dred years sep­a­rate their lives and lega­cies, she har­boured his same con­vic­tion that cul­ture not pol­i­tics would gain Florence last­ing power - the power to in­spire the hu­man heart and mind.

Vis­i­tors to Il Fuligno will have their share of in­spi­ra­tion, start­ing with the chance to ad­mire its fif­teenth-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. The com­plex’s great­est kept se­cret was re­vealed to the world in the 1800s with the dis­cov­ery that its din­ing hall hosts The Last Sup­per of Pi­etro Perug­ino (1493-96). Orig­i­nally at­trib­uted to Raphael it is now one of the best-loved frescos in a city that abounds with ren­di­tions of this theme. Perug­ino’s fresco is a re­minder that Florence’s top fam­i­lies - the Medici, the Bardi and the Strozzi - all poured funds into Il Fuligno, mak­ing it the trea­sure trove we en­joy to­day.

Ac­cord­ing to Floren­tine aris­to­cratic tra­di­tions, dowries were only pre­pared for the el­dest daugh­ter, while younger fe­male sib­lings would more of­ten than not be sent into con­vent life. So, though these women did not have the right to per­sonal money, their fam­i­lies did shower art com­mis­sions on their con­vents, which were held to pray for each dy­nasty’s well-be­ing, both spir­i­tual and ma­te­rial.

Ze­ro­ing in on the heart of Floren­tine art

Be­cause of my love for restora­tion, I find Il Fuligno es­pe­cially ex­cit­ing. The com­plex is full of lovely, muted frescos by Neri di Bicci, a painter who worked in Florence dur­ing the fif­teenth cen­tury. He au­thored the in­ter­est­ing work, De­ri­sion of

Christ and his An­nun­ci­a­tion with Com­mis­sioner is also wor­thy of men­tion: a small im­age of Ginevra de’ Bardi, the aris­to­crat who founded the con­vent, is kneel­ing next to the Madonna. (It is al­ways nice to see a woman rep­re­sented as art pa­troness!) The com­plex was also dec­o­rated by Neri’s son Bicci di Lorenzo, of­ten praised for in­cor­po­rat­ing both ‘mod­ern’ Re­nais­sance trends with tried-and-true me­dieval flair. I par­tic­u­larly love his Na­tiv­ity on the first floor which was ex­ten­sively dam­aged by Florence’s 1966 flood.

Be­cause this mer­ci­less del­uge was fun­da­men­tal to rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing how Florence (and the world) tack­led con­ser­va­tion chal­lenges, I find Bicci di Lorenzo’s frescos a true source of re­flec­tion. On 4 Novem­ber 1966, the former con­vent re­ceived

Schol­ars through the ages... rec­og­nize Anna Maria Luisa as the true heir to Lorenzo, the Mag­nif­i­cent. Though more than two hun­dred years sep­a­rate their lives and lega­cies, she har­boured his same con­vic­tion that cul­ture not pol­i­tics would gain Florence last­ing power - the power to in­spire the hu­man heart and mind

Right: Bicci di Lorenzo’s Na­tiv­ity in Il Fuligno, which was dam­aged by the flood in 1966 Above: Scene from The Medi­ciDy­nastyShow with ac­tors Carolina Gamini and Tim Daish and writ­ten by Arone, Rosati, Gamini, Gar­reffa Top: TheLastSup­per by Pi­etro...

Left: Anna Maria Luisa in Por­traitof An­naMari­aLuisade’ Medi­ci­with­flow­ers by An­to­nio Franchi, c. 1682–1683

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