I looked up the Italian word palazzo in Google Translate and found that it means simply “building.” And from the outside the Palazzo Medici Riccardi (which autocorrect keeps wanting to change to Palazzo Medici Richard) in Florence doesn’t look like anything more than a very nondescript, uninspiring building. In fact, I missed it the first time I tried to find it because the signage wasn’t great and, despite it being where the map said it should be, I thought, “this doesn’t look anywhere near as impressive as the guidebook said it is.”
If you’re in Florence and you have the same first impression of Palazzo Medici Riccardi when viewing it from the outside as I did, don’t let that deter you. Go inside. I did. (Although, don’t do it just because I did it. I’m a nobody. Do it for yourself. Then again, I don’t know your tastes. But, who knows? You might enjoy it.)
Just past the entry, there’s a small, square, stone-floored courtyard. This intimate space features sculptures and other pieces of art mounted on the walls. If you know what you’re looking for—i.e., a downward pointing triangle of six balls—you’ll also spot the Medici symbol displayed prominently on the walls. The Medici were pretty much the rulers and the major patrons of the arts in the middle of the fifteenth century, when the Palazzo was built. The Medici family sold the palazzo to the Riccardi family in 1659, hence the Riccardi in the name. In 1814, the Riccardi sold it to the State and it has belonged to the Provincial Authority since 1874.
Hmm. That was a bit of a historical diversion, wasn’t it? Sorry about that. That wasn’t my intent—unless you enjoy reading about history, in which case, it was precisely my intent.
During my visit, I saw statues mounted on walls with strategically placed fig leaves, presumably to allow the sensitivities of the times. What? At the Accademia there is Michelangelo’s David, very much larger than life, fully anatomically correct and absolutely, totally buck naked. In addition, there are also lots of other paintings and sculptures of male and female nudes from various periods in the Accademia and in other galleries in Florence, not to mention in other locations in the same Palazzo. So, I’m wondering what five minutes in history were sexual sensitivities such that fig leaves were required?
Wandering around, I came across what looked to me like a beautiful ballroom. That shows you how much I know. A sign said it was only a salon. I think I live in the wrong economic class. Inside the salon, there were three ornate chandeliers, but I wasn’t able to get a good look at them because there was some renovation going on and I had to peer in through the doorway. Scaffolding in the room afforded me only a partially obscured view of the interior.
The Galleria of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi
There was yet another exquisitely, ornately decorated room that is known as the Galleria. According to an arrogant sign there, the room was a ”masterpiece of Florentine Baroque art”. I’m certainly no expert at Florentine Baroque art. In fact, I haven’t a clue as to what Florentine Baroque art other than I assume it’s what I saw in the room. Nevertheless, I know what I like and I loved the Galleria.
When I was there, the Galleria was set up for an event, but I was able to walk inside. I should mention that Florence was stinking hot when I was there on this trip. I should mention it so that I can interject that, luxury of luxuries, the Galleria was very well air conditioned. I suspect that was a more recent addition to the building’s infrastructure.
I mercilessly mock people who take selfies. I think selfies are the most self-indulgent phenomenon to sweep humanity. However, I did take one in the Galleria. In my defense, it was “artistic” which, in my view, excuses the self-indulgence. Rather than a standard selfie, I took a picture of my old, decrepit self reflected in beautifully decorated mirror in the Galleria. Fortunately, between the low lighting and the decorative painting on the mirror it’s difficult to make me out in the picture.
Another gorgeous room in the Palazzo is the Sala Quattro Stagioni, which is still used for provincial council meetings. Ironically, I’ve lived all my life in the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario, Toronto, but I’ve never been in the Ontario legislature building. I somehow doubt that the provincial council chamber in Toronto is as elegant or historic as the Sala Quattro Stationi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.
On the way out of the Palazzo, I walked through an even more more beautiful and definitely greener courtyard than the one I mentioned earlier in this post. Rooms off to the side this courtyard housed some much more recent art than was on display elsewhere in the Palazzo. However, I think that was a temporary exhibit, so, if you visit, who knows what you’ll find in those rooms?
As you look through the pictures on this page and in the accompanying slideshow (below) you’ll probably be struck with the same thought I had when I was there: Damn, those Medici knew how to live!