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That the Medici family acquired enormous power and wealth as bankers and financiers and influenced the legacy of Florence and Tuscany is undeniable…From the early 15th century and the beginnings of the Medici dynasty with Giovanni di Bicci and Cosimo Il Vecchio (Cosimo the Elder) to the last Medici descendant, Anna Maria Luisa in the 18th century, the Medici were avid collectors and patrons of the arts. Nowhere is their influence more evident than in the San Lorenzo neighborhood in the heart of Florence. It is here that the Medici family built their Palazzo Medici Riccardi and what has come to be called Il Complesso di San Lorenzo (the San Lorenzo Complex). The complex includes the Medici Chapels, San Lorenzo Basilica, the Laurentian Library, and the San Lorenzo Treasure Museum. I wanted to revisit the Medici Tombs in the Chapels by Michelangelo (they were under restoration during my previous visit) but, alas, it was a Monday and they were closed. Fortunately, the rest of this lovely treasure-filled complex was open.
La Basilica (the Basilica)
At the heart of the complex is San Lorenzo Basilica which was the official parish church of the Medici family. This is where great ceremonies including marriages, baptisms, and funerals were celebrated. Brunelleschi rebuilt the church in Renaissance Classical style in 1419. The unfinished façade belies the spectacular interior including frescoes by Bronzino and Donatello’s glorious bronze pulpits depicting Christ’s Passion and Resurrection (currently being restored).
La Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana (The San Lorenzo Library)
Pope Clement VII de ‘Medici commissioned Michelangelo to design the Laurentian Library in order to house the precious collection of family manuscripts. Michelangelo personally directed the work between 1523 and 1534 and it was completed in 1571 by Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati. As you enter, your eye and attention are immediately drawn to Ammannati’s impressive stone staircase. Built according to Michelangelo’s model, the elegant, grand staircase is the perfect entrance into the splendid library. The immense reading room is completely original with its stunning wood carved ceiling based on drawings by Michelangelo. Also original and constructed according to his drawings are the two parallel rows of wooden benches (called parapets). The intricately designed red and white floor tiles designed by Michelangelo’s student, Nicolo Tribolo, and exquisite stained glass windows by Giorgio Vasari featuring the Medici arms are perfect complements to Michelangelo’s superb design.
Il Tesoro di San Lorenzo (Treasure of San Lorenzo)
The basement of the Basilica is not only where Cosimo the Elder is entombed but also marks the resting place of Donatello who was very highly regarded by Cosimo. Elaborately embossed, chased, engraved and embellished with precious metals and semi-precious stones, some of the exquisite religious objects and elaborate reliquaries from the basilica are on display. Thanks to the last Medici descendant, Anna Maria Luisa, the vast Medici collections were bequeathed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the 18th century with the intention that they be enjoyed and admired by everyone.