Architecture Around the World

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
Via Covour 3, Florence, Italy




Michelozzo di Bartolommeo



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TEXT Beneath Illustrations

2008 Photos
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The building block is divided into stories of decreasing height

Modillions support the overhanging cornice


Architrave window, with consoles

Main entrance

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi

Renaissance style door

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi is one of the largest and most important Renaissance palaces in Florence. As the Medici wealth grew so did the need for a better family house and in 1444 Michelozzo designed this palazzo (palace) for Cosimo the Elder. Cosimo who often stated that "envy is a weed that should not be watered " did not want too grand a home for fear of arousing hostility. Thus, the original commission to Brunelleschi was revoked because the architect's plans were too ornate.

Michelozzo di Bartolommeo (1396-1472) had been Donatello's collaborator in several sculptural enterprises.

In Michelozzo's design, the exterior is simple, but the interior luxurious enough to befit the guests who came to stay, including the likes of Charles V of France.

It was Cosimo's eldest son, Piero, who ordered the construction of the private chapel for which this building is most famous, the Cappella dei Magi .

The family lived there until Cosimo I, the first grand duke of Tuscany, moved to the seat of republican, the Palazzo Vecchio in 1537 (later the family moved to the larger, grandiose Pitti Palace).

In 1659 the house was acquired by the Riccardi family
who altered and enlarged it, almost doubling the length of the facade.

In 1814, the palazzo was sold to the royal family Lorena that relegated it to a administrative offices. In 1871 it changed hands again, owned by the City of Florence that destined it to administrative offices.
The palace now houses temporary exhibitions.

The building

The solid, geometric structure of the palace draws inspiration from noble medieval dwellings. But at the same time Michelozzo's clear and distinct conception reverses the typically medieval tendency to treat the house as a fortress, and impresses upon it a new sense of comfort and space.

The shape is extremely simple, a loggia composed of four rectangular wings set around the courtyard.

The building block is divided into stories of decreasing height by long, unbroken stringcourses, which give it articulation and presence. The stone is utilized in such a way as to show the building's structure to the best advantage.

In Renaissance palaces, the bottom floor was constructed of rusticated stone to suggest a firm foundation and impenetrable defenses. Higher floors were formed from smooth ashlar blocks, with the joints hardly perceptible, to represent the refinement of the living area. The overall effect emphasizes that the building appears progressively lighter as the eye moves upward.

This effect is dramatically reversed by the extremely heavy cornice, which Michelozzo related not to the top story but to the building as a whole. The cornice clearly and effectively defines the structure's proportions. The massive cornice crowning the solid cube of the palace in a coherent fashion is the prototype of the cornice seen in Renaissance palaces from that time on.

On the first floor the facade is occupied by imposing entrance doors, many of which were walled in time and substituted with large windows. The perimeter of the palace is lined with stone benches.

The facade on upper floors, divided by linear frames, is surrounded by windows and other decorations.
Harmony is established in the proportions of the windows, as the sharpness of the Gothic mullion is toned down by the use of the round arches.

In the corners of the building there are still placed the coat-of-arms of the families Medici and Riccardi.

Michelozzo's synthesis of traditional architecture and a new compositional order thus finds its most complete and convincing expression in the Medici Palace.

Historical perspective

The secular nature of the Renaissance - the triumph of Humanism even in the Catholic South - finds a symbol in the villa and the palace, not least the palaces of Florence, The palaces were built in the middle years of the fifteenth century for such princely and mercantile families as the Strozzi, as well as Medici (Medici-Riccardi), the Pitti, and the Pandolfini. They vary in detail but conform to type:

What is mote important than individual façades is the fact that here had been created a new urban type, which was to be found throughout the centuries in the Georgian square, the Pall Mall clubs, the Wall Street bank. The wealthy businessman, now neither a churchman nor a feudal lord, had found his architectural symbol. Moreover, the modern street, the "corridor" of stone frontages, had, for better or worse, been invented.


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Photos and their arrangement © 2008 Chuck LaChiusa
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