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The Medici Room of Wonders at Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio Florence

Palazzo Vecchio: art and power under one roof

Palazzo Vecchio Florence
Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

When visiting Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria, you have the opportunity to breathe the story of one of the most incredible families in Italian history, the Medici.

The construction of Palazzo dei Priori, as it was originally known, started in 1299. From 1540 it became the residence of the Medici family, at the time of Duke Cosimo and his wife, Eleonora di Toledo.

The Medici believed in beauty as a privileged means of communication. For this reason they embarked on a complex and fascinating decorative programme to celebrate themselves and to show how much art was at the lord’s service.

Walls and ceilings in the palace’s rooms were decorated with stories of divinities, heroes and heroines of Greek mythology who fight for the freedom of their people. Art was used not just for its aesthetic value, but also as propaganda, embodying the overwhelming power of the dictator and tyrant who rules as an individual over the entire community.

For centuries Palazzo Vecchio was considered the main symbol of political power in the city of Florence. Today it’s the municipality’s seat and a civic museum.

The Studiolo of Francesco I de’ Medici

Studiolo di Francesco I dei Medici
The Studiolo
Mother Nature and Prometheus – ceiling

Among the various rooms the one that, in my opinion, deserves more than any others to be known, is the so-called “Studiolo” (little study) of Francesco I, the eldest son of Cosimo and Eleonora. The Studiolo was supposed to be Francesco’s private room of wonders.

Francesco I had taken over from his father Cosimo I in 1564 as regent of the Duchy of Tuscany. Very different from his father, not inclined to government, politics and arms, Francesco was a melancholic with a brilliant mind. For his love of science and the dark arts, he can be defined as an esoteric, who delighted himself in learning the most ancient of arts, alchemy.

Francesco decided to build this room to celebrate his great passion for Nature and its bond with Art. In 1570 the scholar Vincenzo Borghini and the court architect Giorgio Vasari, helped by a team of 31 different artists, gave life to this artistic microcosm.



Secret door from Francesco I bedroom to the Sudiolo
The Secret door

The Secret door

Francesco was the only one who could access the Studiolo through a secret door that led to his bedroom located on the opposite side of the entrance. Today, the room is accessible from the much more famous Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the five hundred), through a door built in the 19th century.

The ceiling

In the centre of the vault, there is the fresco of an exciting scene showing Mother Nature as she frightens the titan Prometheus with the flint that he will then deliver to men, making fire accessible to them. A celebration of Nature which in man’s hands is transformed into art.

The walls

Each one of the Studiolo four walls is devoted to one of the four natural elements:

Dedalus and Icarus by Maso da San Friano
Dedalus and Icarus

“The pearl fisher” by Alessandro Allori refers to water; the painting of “Dedalus and Icarus” by Maso da San Friano is on the wall dedicated to air.

A beautiful bronze statue of Goddess Opi by Bartolomeo Ammannati is part of the representation of earth.

“The workshop of the alchemist” by Giovanni Stradano celebrates the fire element. In this very last painting, at the bottom right, we can recognise the portrait of Francesco dei Medici. He is depicted wearing a white apron and working as an apprentice in the workshop of his master alchemist who stands behind him. In the background other men are pouring liquids into the stills in the presence of a curious cat. The cat, a nocturnal animal, goes well with the chosen theme since these types of experiments were conducted especially at night.

The cabinets

In the the lower register of the Studiolo there are secret cabinets hidden into the thickness of the masonry. An oval painting with its frame makes the door of the cabinet. This is where the prince kept rare and precious objects, from pearls to precious stones, from ancient coins to exotic elixirs he made himself, and much more.

Diving into the world of the Studiolo means immersing yourself into Francesco’s brilliant personality and extraordinary life studded with rare objects and distant flavours, natural remedies and blown glass.

The museum of Palazzo Vecchio

Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday / Saturday /Sunday: 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

Thursday: 9 a.m – 2 p.m.

Discovering Florence’s secrets with Sara Papini @firenzeconme

This article is the second contribution by our preferred Tour Guide Sara Papini. If you would like to book a private tour of Florence with her, please click here.