After Gian Gastone’s death one other Medici remained alive: Anna Maria Ludovica, daughter of Cosimo III. Born in 1667, she married the Elector Palatine of the Rhine, and survived until 1743. It was she who left to the city the priceless Medici collections, as I have stated in chapter VIII. The earlier and greatest of the Medici are buried in the church of S. Lorenzo or in Michelangelo’s sacristy; the later Medici, beginning with Giovanni delle Bande Nere and his wife, and their son Cosimo I, are in the gorgeous mausoleum that adjoins S. Lorenzo and is still being enriched with precious marbles.
Such is an outline of the history of this wonderful family, and we leave their ancient home, built by the greatest and wisest of them, with mixed feelings of admiration and pity. They were seldom lovable; they were often despicable; but where they were great they were very great indeed. A Latin inscription in the courtyard reminds the traveller of the distinction which the house possesses, calling it the home not only of princes but of knowledge herself and a treasury of the arts. But Florence, although it bought the palace from the Riccardi family a century and more ago, has never cared to give it back its rightful name.
S. Lorenzo and Michelangelo
A forlorn facade—The church of the Medici—Cosimo’s parents’ tomb—Donatello’s cantoria and pulpits—Brunelleschi’s sacristy—Donatello again—The palace of the dead Grand Dukes—Costly intarsia—Michelangelo’s sacristy—A weary Titan’s life—The victim of capricious pontiffs—The Medici tombs—Mementi mori—The Casa Buonarroti—Brunelleschi’s cloisters—A model library.
Architecturally S. Lorenzo does not attract as S. Croce and S. Maria Novella do; but certain treasures of sculpture make it unique. Yet it is a cool scene of noble grey arches, and the ceiling is very happily picked out with gold and colour. Savonarola preached some of his most important sermons here; here Lorenzo the Magnificent was married.
The facade has never yet been finished: it is just ragged brickwork waiting for its marble, and likely to wait, although such expenditure on marble is going on within a few yards of it as makes one gasp. Not very far away, in the Via Ghibellina, is a house which contains some rough plans by a master hand for this facade, drawn some four hundred years ago—the hand of none other than Michelangelo, whose scheme was to make it not only a wonder of architecture but a wonder also of statuary, the facade having many niches, each to be filled with a sacred figure. But Michelangelo always dreamed on a scale utterly disproportionate to the foolish little span of life allotted to us and the S. Lorenzo facade was never even begun.
The piazza which these untidy bricks overlook is now given up to stalls and is the centre of the cheap clothing district. Looking diagonally across it from the church one sees the great walls of the courtyard of what is now the Riccardi palace, but was in the great days the Medici palace; and at the corner, facing the Borgo S. Lorenzo, is Giovanni delle Bande Nere, in stone, by the impossible Bandinelli, looking at least twenty years older than he ever lived to be.