Palazzo Medici Riccardi – Florence
The Palazzo Medici Riccardi is an Italian Renaissance palace and art museum in Florence, also known for its Magi Chapel painted by Benozzo Gozzoli.
It was the main residence of the House of Medici before they moved into the Palazzo Pitti in the 17th century.
The design of the palace was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder to architect Michelozzo (Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi) in the 1440s with a view to creating an impressive residence for the House of Medici, at the time the most powerful family of Florence.
Built between 1444 and 1460, the palace conceived by Michelozzo, widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of Italian Renaissance architecture, is an imposing and severe cubic construction whose style deeply influenced that of many other subsequent buildings, such as the Palazzo Strozzi, built about forty years later.
It is important to report that the current Palazzo Medici Riccardi is much larger than the palace designed by Michelozzo since the building was expanded in the 17th century, though retaining its original architectural style.
The palace’s three-story south and west facades are characterized by an ashlar decoration and double lancet windows, which would become subsequently two popular features of most Florentine palaces of the Renaissance period.
The austere exterior of the building makes a contrast with its more delicate courtyard surrounded by a beautiful Composite-style portico on all sides; under the portico, also stands the 16th-century sculpture Orpheus by Baccio Bandinelli. A small garden with classical-style sculptures is located at the back of the palazzo.
In the mid-17th century, after the Medicis relocated into the Palazzo Pitti, the old palace was sold to the Riccardi family, a wealthy dynasty of Florentine bankers who enlarged and renovated the building doubling its main facade and adding new richly decorated Baroque-style interiors.
Medici Riccardi Palace Florence, west facade; photo: Federica Poluzzi
Medici Riccardi Palace, west elevation, a photogrammetric survey by Studio A srl Florence
The Magi Chapel by Benozzo Gozzoli
Originally, the Medici palace was decorated with an exceptional ensemble of paintings and sculptures by some of the most illustrious Italian Renaissance artists, including the David by Donatello; paintings by Paolo Uccello, Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and others; as well as large collections of classical sculpture and applied arts.
First, because the Medici’s reigning line relocated to Palazzo Vecchio and then after the end of their rule over Florence, most parts of the collections housed in the building were moved into other locations. Yet, the palace still retains one of its greatest masterpieces, the Magi Chapel by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Located on the piano nobile, the room once was the family’s private chapel; the frescoes which decorate it were painted by Gozzoli in 1459 as a celebratory depiction of the prominence of the House of Medici.
Extending on three walls, the monumental painting cycle represents the procession of the three Magi (whose portraits are probably those of Lorenzo de’ Medici the Magnificent, Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, and Joseph II Patriarch of Constantinople) followed by notable members of the Medici family – including Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano, his father Piero the Gouty, and his grandfather Cosimo the Elder -, as well as other personalities of the time such as Pope Pius II, members of the Malatesta and Sforza families, and various philosophers, men of letters, and artists, including Gozzoli himself.
Benozzo Gozzoli’s work demonstrates the artist’s unique ability to portrait the various characters in a realistic way, in the framework of angels whose style shows the influence of Benozzo’s master, Fra Angelico, and a gorgeous landscape somewhat reminiscent of that of Flemish tapestries.
Benozzo Gozzoli, fresco paintings on the east and west walls of the Magi Chapel of the Medici Riccardi Palace, 1459; photos: Jean Louis Mazieres
Acquired by the Province of Florence in 1874, the Medici Riccardi Palace was converted into a museum in 1939.
Today, the museum’s ticket gives access to the most important decorated rooms of the palace, the Magi Chapel, and the archaeological galleries located in the basement, featuring a collection of over 160 Roman sculptural works, including statues, portraits, and marble heads.
In the museum, also the famous Madonna of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi painting by Filippo Lippi is permanently on view.
The building also contains temporary exhibition spaces, a historical library, and a museum shop.
The courtyard of the Medici Riccardi Palace designed by Michelozzo; photo © Inexhibit
West facade and garden; photo © Inexhibit
Medici Riccardi Palace, Gallery of Luca Giordano (also known as Gallery of the Mirrors); photo: _Cluke_
Filippo Lippi, Madonna of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, ca. 1466 -1469, oil on panel; photo: Miles Berry
Cover image: The courtyard of the Medici Riccardi Palace with the “Orpheus” sculpture by Baccio Bandinelli; photo © Inexhibit