On Wednesday, February 18th there will be a free museum day for all civic museums in Florence to honor Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici. Who was she? Read on to find out.
By: Isaac Carreón, Marist Italy MA in Museum Studies 2014-15
Statue of Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici in the Medici Chapels. Photo by Allison Boyd, Marist Italy MA
February marks a special month for Florence. Its importance is not just due to the brisk air that winter brings or the prospects of new or rekindled love with Valentines Day. February is the month that Florentines commemorate the wise woman who gave Florence a gift that can never be repaid: the gift of Florence’s heritage and prospects as a place of tourism. The gift came in the form of an edict titled The Family Pact.
Born August 11, 1667, Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici was the only daughter of Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. A very perceptive child, even at a young age, Anna Maria Luisa was doted on by her father and raised by her grandmother, Vittoria della Rovere, whom she favored. Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici’s mother removed herself from the life of her children at a very early age but it seemed that this event did not hinder Anna Maria Luisa’s nurturing characteristics. All throughout her life there are many examples of just how in tune she was to her family and dynastic heritage. One such example of this is how she arraigned a marriage between her brother Gian Gastone de’Medici and Anna Maria Franziska of Saxe-Lauenburg, in an effort to secure an heir to the Medicean Dynasty, as well as to improve Gian Gastone’s image and happiness. As a result of Gian Gaston’s hugely unsuccessful marriage, the heir-apparent for the Grand Duchy largely blamed his sister for his unhappiness. Although the relationship between brother and sister soured, she nevertheless tried to improve her brother’s image to the public. While this endeavor proved fruitless, it is possible that before his death Gian Gastone saw the practicality of bequeathing all the Medicean objects, entire art collections, palaces, villas and gems, to his sister.
After the death of her father and brothers, Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici, who at this point was widowed, surviving her husband, Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm, was titled Tuscany’s first lady and the last Medici. She was allowed to remain in the Pitti Palace by the decree of the new Grand Duke, Francis I of the Lorrane, who later became the Holy Roman Emperor. During her twilight years she spent much of her time financing and overseeing the construction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, a task that was started in 1604 by Ferdinando I de’ Medici. Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici donated much of her fortune to various charities monthly until her death. Her gifts each month totaled an equivalent of $852,000 in present-day terms.
After her work on San Lorenzo and her charitable donations, Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici, the last scion of the Medici dynasty, had one last gift to give: she preserved all Medicean possessions of art, palaces, villas and all other rarities the family collected over their centuries-long influence through the form of an historical edict. Referred to as the “Family Pact”, this decree dictates, among other things, that these treasures must forever be on display in the state of Florence to attract not only people in Italy, but from around the world. Signed and ratified on October 31, 1737, this edict effectively secured the cultural heritage of Florence and made it a mecca of sorts for art historians and fans for centuries to come. This is why on 18th February, the day that Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, Dowager Electress Palatine, died, Florentines celebrate her life by making this day a Free Museum Day for all of the state museums in Florence. I urge everyone to take advantage of this day of gratitude and to kick off their museum excursion by taking the time to visit the Medici Chapels and pay deserved respects to the Electress Palatine who made all this possible. It wont cost you a thing and I promise you will appreciate the other museums all the more.
Rest well, your Serene Highness, Florence is forever grateful for your gift.