What was really in the Medici Treasury?

Botticelli painting showing Medici cameo


Lorenzo de Medici

The Silver Museum, also known as the Medici Treasury, is located in the summer apartments of the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. Granduke Ferdinando I had these rooms decorated with frecos that exalt the glories of the family in 1635 at the occasion of his wedding to Vittoria della Rovere.



Inside the Medici Treasury

The museum houses the important treasures of the Medici; the semi precious stone vases of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the cameos of Cosimo I, the rock crystal objects of Francesco I, the ambers of Maria Maddalena d’Austria, the ivory vases of Mattia de Medici and the famous jewels of Anna Maria Luisa, the last member of the Medici family.  The museum name comes from the silver of the Salzburg treasure belonging to the Bishops of Salzburg, brought to Florence by Ferdinand III in 1815.

Great Renaissance artists gained inspiration from the images of gems and jewels depicted in a number of amazing world-renowned frescos by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello and Sandro Botticelli.  The collections assembled in the 15th century by Cosimo Medici and substantiated by Piero Medici, who set aside a special place for them in family palace Via Larga; a studio shown with pride to a select group of distinguished guests as any cabinet of curiosities of the day.  Collecting these jewels was also a rediscovery of antiquity, and the introduction of lapidaries, or texts, defining the virtues of jewels, images and cameos, ardently sought by popes, princes and cardinals, triggering bitter conflicts between the connoisseurs.  Their small dimensions and ease of transport made them ideal gifts for illustrious personages, as well as an excellent form of investment, a capital to draw on in moments of great difficulty.






Cosimo and Family

Cameos and engravings were the keepers of the stars’ occult powers, able to keep evil at bay using specific materials, stones and images.  A particularly famous piece is Lorenzo the Magnificent’s ring, which upon his death, released the demons trapped in the setting and caused a great thunderstorm in Florence, announcing the death of the great man.  The Medici family had a predilection for collecting jewels and cameos, so much so that they amassed one of history’s greatest collections.

Among the most famous and often reproduced of the pieces are the cornelian known as the Seal of Nero, once belonging to Lorenzo the Magnificent, now housed at the Naples National Archeological Museum.  The influence of this small piece shown in a painting by Sandro Botticelli, the woman wears a gilt pendant on which appears a reproduction of the cornelian.  The presence of this detail proves the patron who commissioned the work was part of Lorenzo’s inner circle.  Her identity ranges from Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo’s mother, to Simonetta Cattaneo, Marco Vespucci’s beloved, whom artists placed on a pedestal as an ideal of feminine beauty following her premature death.

Seal of Nero

This canelian was one of the famous ancient gems; a setting was made by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the form of a dragon among ivy leaves, clasping the oval between its wings and lowered head.  The inscription, LAVRMED,  is the mark of Lorenzo de Medici.

The scene represents the moment following the victory of Apollo in the musical challenge launched by Marsyas, it also precedes the torture to which the god condemned the satyr as a punishment for his pride.  Apollo portrayed as a youth with long hair bearing a lyre in his hand.  Marsyas seated on a lion’s skin laid upon a rock, with his hands bound behind his back.  In the foreground is Olympus, the mythical flautist who implores the god to have pity on his teacher Marsyas.  Hanging from the branch is the sheath of Marsyas’ flute, which is lying abandoned on the ground, a detail that prefigures Marsyas’ own end, hung from the dead tree and flayed alive by a Scythian.

View the catalog of this exhibition Precious and Beautiful from the Museo degli Argenti.







Filed under March

4 responses to “What was really in the Medici Treasury?

  1. What a wonderful post! The decorative arts are so fascinating – unimaginable craftsmanship, sumptuous materials, and often containing whole worlds of meaning and imagination. They’re too often overlooked in comparison to ‘Fine Arts’ so it’s nice to know about this exhibit. I love reading about the Medici ring that ‘released demons’ upon Lorenzo’s death – it was 1492, certainly the start of an earthshaking new cycle!

  2. Thanks so much Marilyn! 1492 seemed to be one of those crucial points in history; if not for the death of Lorenzo, he may have funded Columbus instead of the Spanish.

  3. Pingback: Florence caught with their breeches down and their arse in a bucket « This write life

  4. Pingback: Cabinet of Curiosities | This write life

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