Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici: The Woman Behind the Treasures of Florence

And so it was that on this day in Florence in July of 1737, a day which I imagine would have been oppressive and hot as summer days can be in Tuscany, the last ruling member of the Medici family, Grand Duke Gian Gastone, died.

He had been a poor representation of the once-great Medici family and with his death, the dynasty which had ruled both officially and unofficially over Florence, for roughly 300 years, ended.

By the time of Gian Gaston’s death, Florence had been invaded by Austrian troops, and was poised to become part of Lorraine dynasty. The spoils of the Medici, including countless Renaissance treasures, were threatened to be absorbed into the new empire and likely would be removed from Florence, forever dispersed throughout Europe.

One remaining Medici family member prevented that from happening, Gian Gastone’s older sister, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici — the last of the Medici. With incredible wisdom and forethought and just a few months following her brother’s death, Anna Maria Luisa drafted in her will an agreement with the Holy Roman Emperor and new Duke (Francis of Lorraine).

Electres Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici.jpg

Image Credit

“She was always very conscious of the fact that she was the last of the Medici,” writes Christopher Hibbert in The House of Medici. 

I imagine her fretting over this fact — being the last of a centuries-old lineage — from her apartments in the Pitti Palace, where the new government allowed her to live her remaining years. She must have felt the weight of hundreds of years of Florentine citizens and history, and the entire Medici dynasty, pressing upon her.

What was to become of it all? Did she lose sleep, night after night, until waking one morning with the relief only clarity can bring? However it came to her, the solution ensured that Florence would house its own artistic treasures, for all the world to enjoy, forever.

Hibbert continues: “In her will, she bequeathed to the new Grand Duke and his successors all the property of the Medici, their palaces and villas, their pictures and statues, their jewels and furniture, their books and manuscripts — all the vast store of works of art assembled by her ancestors, generation after generation. She made one condition: nothing should ever be removed from Florence where the treasures of the Medici should always be available for the pleasure and benefit of the people of the whole world.” (emphasis mine)

Sandro Botticelli - La nascita di Venere - Google Art Project - edited.jpg

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485, housed at the Uffizi in Florence, painted as a wedding gift for a Medici cousin. Image Credit

Known as the ‘Family Pact’ (Patto di Famiglia) and drafted on October 31, 1737, it became fully active upon Anna Maria Luisa’s death on February 18, 1743.

“Anna Maria Luisa’s single most enduring act was the Family Pact. It ensured that all the Medicean art and treasures collected over nearly three centuries of political ascendancy remained in Florence. Cynthia Miller Lawrence, an American art-historian, argues that Anna Maria Luisa thus provisioned for Tuscany’s future economy through tourism.” (Wikipedia)

Modern-day Florence is a city with a population of 350,000, but it attracts roughly 16 million tourists every year. While we are pulled to the city for countless reasons, one of the main attractions has to be the art. The Uffizi Gallery, former offices of the governing Medici, houses countless pieces of artwork in its 45 halls. It was open to the public sixteen years after Anna Maria Luisa’s death, and remains one of the most visited museums in Italy.

Florence is said to contain more than 60 percent of the world’s art heritage. Grazie, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, for making this possible.

The City of Florence still honors Anna Maria Luisa on the day of her death, with free entrance for the day on February 18th to city museums and guided tours of the Medici Chapels where she is buried. (Map link via Visit Florence)

For the coming months, while crafting new content, Prayers and Piazzas will be featuring our most popular posts from the archives. We hope you enjoy these favorites while we are creating new material. This post first appeared on Prayers and Piazzas in February 2017.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Love the history you’re sharing!

    1. Thank you so much, glad to hear that!

  2. What forethought – interesting post!

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