Episode 13: The Palazzo Pitti in Florence

Boboli Gardens Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Marian Jones

This episode covers the Palazzo Pitti, the must-see palace on the ‘other’ side of the River Arno, just across the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a chance to run through the later Medici rulers who lived here, some who patronised the arts and sciences, others who murdered each other to ensure their own succession. Then there’s a rundown of what to look out for when you visit and a little information on two of the main artists whose work is exhibited here: Raphael and Titian. And finally, prompts on three things to enjoy around the Palazzo Pitti : the glorious Boboli Gardens, the Ponte Vecchio and the Vasari Corridor.

The medici who lived in the palazzo pitti

Duke Cosimo I (1519-74), was the first Medici to move into the Palazzo Pitti, along with his wife Eleonora of Toledo and their 11 children. He was a great patron of the arts and he founded both the botanical gardens in Florence and the University of Pisa. There’s more on him on the podcast, including the gruesome story of how his daughter Isabella was murdered by her husband, here in the palace.

Francesco I (1541-87) left governing mainly to ministers, preferring to devote himself to science – chemistry, alchemy, astronomy – and the arts. His collection eventually became the foundation of the Uffizi Gallery.

Ferdinando I (1549-1609) was the brother of Francesco and succeeded him after a stay at the palazzo during which both Francesco and his wife died of poisoning 11 hours apart. Suspicious. He was known as ‘the spendthrift cardinal’, being fond of lavish entertaining, but he did also found hospitals in the city.

Cosimo II (1590 – 1621) was known as ‘the mild grand duke’ who ‘passed his brief life between luncheons, receptions and literary or scientific debates’ before dying at the age of 31, leaving his wife and mother as co-rulers until his son came of age.

Ferdinando II (1610-70) was a great supporter of science, including the Accademia del Cimento founded by his brother, a respected scientific society whose motto was ‘Try, try and try again’. But he failed to support Galileo during his trial, a fact he later so regretted that he paid for a monument to him in Santa Croce after the scientist died.

Cosimo III (1642-1723) was known for his tempestuous marriage to Marguerite-Louise of Orléans who never learned Italian. Their 3 children were the last of the Medici dynasty, all dying childless. The last was their daughter, Anna-Maria-Luisa, whose will left all the treasures of the Palazzo Pitti to the city of Florence.

2 artists to look out for

Raphael 1483-1520
Rapahel arrived in Florence in 1504 and soon had lots of commissions and decided to stay. He is known for his ‘sweet madonnas’, including the Madonna della Seggiola (Madonna of the Chair) which is here. It was so popular in the 19th century that there was a 5-year waiting list for artists wishing to copy it! Raphael’s Donna Velata, ( Veiled Lady) is here too, an intriguing portrait of a lady with deep brown eyes wearing a luxurious black silk dress lined with gold. Like the Mona Lisa, her identity is unknown, but she may be Margherita Luti, whom Raphael loved, but never married, but who was a beneficiary of his will when he died, aged only 37.

Titian (c 1498- 1576)
Titan did his best work in Venice, where he was apprenticed in his teens to the Venetian artist Sebastiano Zuccato. He was very successful, counting King Philip of Spain and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, among his patrons and he painted many of the leading figures of his day. His portrait of Pope Julius is here, about which the critic Giorgio Vasari wrote that ‘It was so lifelike and true it frightened everyone who saw it, as if it were the living man himself.’ Also here is his Penitent Magdalene, a heart-rending picture of a tearful Mary Magdalene. Look out for the ointment jar on the left, on which he signed his name: Titanius.

There are more works by both these artists in the Uffizi.

3 things not to miss

The Palazzo Pitti grounds, known as the Giardino di Boboli – or Boboli Gardens – were first designed for Eleonora of Toledo in the 16th century and are stunning. Visit the amphitheatre, wander among the fountains and sculptures and look out for the Isolotto, or ‘fountain island’ and the Viottolone, an avenue of cypresses with Roman statues. More prosaically, the Boboli was the first place in Italy where potatoes were grown!

The Ponte Vecchio, which means ‘Old Bridge’ was the first crossing point over the river. This version dates back to 1345, when it was home to butchers and fishmongers, but their habit of throwing offal and suchlike straight into the river meant that they were eventually evicted in the 16th century and replaced by the jewellers and goldsmiths whom you’ll still see there today. It’s a beautiful spot, and a top one for photos – both of the bridge and from it.

The Vasari Corridor
This was built in 1565, on the instructions of Duke Cosimo I who wanted to link his new home in the Palazzo Pitti to his offices in the Palazzo Vecchio. The elevated gallery gave him a safe route to work in a city where rulers were subject to violence and murder. Today it is an art gallery, full of goodies by the likes of Rubens, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Delacroix. To see inside you need to book in advance.

Listen to the POdcast

Reading suggestions

The Medici by Paul Strathern
The Medici by Mary Hollingsworth
Art and Architecture in Florence by Rolf C Wirtz

links for this post

The Palazzo Pitti
The Vasari Corridor

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