• Stacy di Anna Pollard

Florence's First Lady and Last Medici

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

And so it was that in Florence on July 9, 1737, a day likely oppressive and hot, as summer Tuscan days are, 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 Florence both officially and unofficially for roughly 300 years, ended.

Florence had been recently invaded by Austrian troops, and was poised to become part of the Lorraine dynasty. The spoils of the Medici, including countless Renaissance works of art, were threatened to be absorbed into the new empire. Likely they would be removed from Florence, forever dispersed throughout Europe.

One remaining Medici family member prevented that from happening, Gian Gastone’s older sister and the last of the Medici, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici.

Anna Maria Luisa was the second child and only daughter of Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Marguerite Louise d'Orleans, a princess in the French royal family before her marriage. Theirs was a contentious marriage and Marguerite abandoned Tuscany -- and her family -- when Anna Maria Luisa was just eight years old. Anna Maria Luisa was adored by her father and raised in the Pitti Palace by her paternal grandmother, Vittoria della Rovere, but sadly, she never saw her mother again.

When she was 24, Anna Maria Luisa was married by proxy to Johann Wilhelm II, Elector Palatine, an area now in the Bavarian region. They shared a happy marriage in Dusseldorf, the capital city of the Palatinate, but never had children. The Elector died in 1716, and Anna Maria Luisa returned to Tuscany the next year. Her father continued to rule Tuscany until his death in 1723, upon which Gian Gastone took over for the next 14 years.

Following her brother's death, childless Anna Maria Luisa was well aware of the Medici line ending with her, as she also looked toward a future where Florence would be ruled by a government with roots far from home.

I imagine her fretting over this fact from her apartments in the Pitti Palace, where the newly established foreign government allowed her to live her remaining years. The gravity of knowing that a lineage, which started in 1230, ended with her. She must have felt the weight of hundreds of years of Florentine citizens, history, and the entire Medici dynasty, pressing upon her.

What was to become of all the Renaissance masterpieces, born in Florence itself? Did Anna Maria Luisa lose sleep, night after night, until waking one morning with the relief only clarity brings? However it came to her, her solution ensured that Florence would house its own artistic treasures, for all the world to enjoy, forever.

With incredible wisdom and foresight, and just a few months following her brother’s death, Anna Maria Luisa drafted in her will an agreement laying the groundwork for Florence as the permanent home of its Renaissance creations. The Holy Roman Emperor and new Duke of Florence, Francis of Lorraine, gave his blessing. Francis and his descendants would get everything -- artwork, statues, villas, jewelry -- but none of it could be removed from Florence. Ever.

“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.” (Christopher Hibbert, The House of Medici)

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)

The Birth of Venus/La Nascita di Venere | Sandro Botticelli, 1485

Modern-day Florence is a city with a population of 350,000, but it attracts roughly 16 million visitors every year. While we are pulled to the city for countless reasons, one of the strongest draws is the art. The Uffizi Gallery, former government offices of the Medici, houses a staggering amount of Renaissance 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, February 18. Admission to civic museums is free in recognition of her contribution to Florence's art preservation.

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