By the turn of the seventeenth century, the concentration of artistic innovation once held by Florence shifts to Rome, where the dynamic Baroque style emerges and gains widespread influence. Before exponents of the Baroque reach Central Italy, artists of Tuscany, Umbria, and the Marches respond to—and in many cases reject—the sixteenth-century Mannerist style, returning instead to the classical ideals of earlier Renaissance masters. Meanwhile, the ruling Medici family draws to its Florentine court, still renowned for its magnificence, influential artists from Northern Italy, Rome, and Northern Europe, who promote the spread of Baroque, Rococo, and, later, Neoclassical styles in Central Italy. By the eighteenth century, however, the Medici slip from power, and at the extinction of their line in 1737, rule of the region passes to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.
A generation of Florentine painters follows in the footsteps of Santi di Tito (1536–1603), the great master of the later sixteenth century who rejected the stylized elegance of Mannerism in favor of greater naturalism and narrative clarity. Foremost among these artists are Jacopo da Empoli (1551–1640)—distinguished as a painter of both altarpieces and still lifes—and Domenico Passignano (1559–1638), whose exposure to Venetian painting during several years in that city contributes a richness of palette and softened modeling to works otherwise informed by the Florentine tradition. The greatest Florentine master of this generation, however, is Ludovico Cardi, known as Cigoli (1559–1613). A student first of the architect and designer Bernardo Buontalenti (ca. 1531–1608) and later of Santi di Tito, Cigoli is also deeply influenced by Renaissance masters such as Tintoretto and Correggio. He is active in Florence in the 1590s and returns in his late years. A skilled architect and designer, Cigoli’s building projects in Florence include the Loggia Tornaquinci, the Doni and Usimbardi chapels in Santa Trinità, and the Guicciardini Chapel in Santa Felicità.
Opera emerges as a new theatrical form. Cultivated by a group of Florentine poets, scholars, and musicians known as the camerata, opera is the supreme exemplification of the Baroque ideal of unity among arts, necessitating the collaboration of poets and writers, composers, musicians, painters, and architects.
The illusionistic hardstone mosaic technique known as pietra dura enjoys great popularity. Established in the late sixteenth century, workshops in the Uffizi, Florence, specialize in the production of objects decorated in this manner.
Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630), an artist of Florentine birth, creates 150 etched illustrations for the Metamorphoses of Ovid. The series is one of several that Tempesta produces between the last decade of the sixteenth century and the end of his life. His oeuvre, including over a thousand prints, is characterized by the strong influence of Netherlandish masters encountered during the artist’s stay in Rome.
Pietro Tacca (1577–1640) takes over the workshop of the sculptor Giambologna (ca. 1529–1608). In the following year, he assumes his late master’s post at the Medici court as official sculptor to the grand dukes. The workshop is prolific in its output of bronzes—Tacca’s preferred medium—for patrons in Italy and abroad. He excels in portraiture (which serves as propaganda for his ducal patrons), achieving great textural naturalism of the sculpted surface. Tacca’s monumental commissions for the city of Florence include two fountains with ornamental grotesques for the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, cast by 1633 and installed in 1640. Pietro is succeeded at court by his son Ferdinando (1619–1686). Although a successful sculptor in bronze, Ferdinando also achieves renown as a theatrical designer, creating elaborate sets and stage machinery for festivities and productions financed by the Medici.
Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) enters the service of Cosimo II de’ Medici in Florence as court philosopher and mathematician. At this time, he also resumes a post at the University of Pisa, where he first taught from 1589 to 1592 and conducted early experiments in physics. After his 1633 trial by the Inquisition in Rome for upholding the Copernican theory of planetary motion, Galileo is forced to reside in Siena; he is later permitted to move to Arcetri, near Florence, where he remains for the rest of his life.
Cristofano Allori (1577–1621), grandson of the great Renaissance master Bronzino, paints Judith with the Head of Holofernes (version, Palazzo Pitti, Florence), his most celebrated work. Believed to depict his mistress La Mazzafirra as Judith and her mother as the serving-woman Abra—with the head of Holofernes possibly a self-portrait—the picture demonstrates Allori’s lyrical style and literary approach to painting. In addition to his success as a painter, Allori is known as a courtier, poet, and musician.
Flemish painter Justus Sustermans (1597–1681) is court painter to the Medici, remaining in their service until his death. During his lifetime, Suttermans is celebrated as the finest portraitist in Italy.
Florentine etcher Stefano della Bella (1610–1664) dedicates an early print, the Banquet of the Piacevoli, to Prince Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici. This wins the artist a stipend with which he travels to Rome in 1633, remaining there (with occasional visits to Florence) for six years. Della Bella’s many drawings of this period illustrate his lively and naturalistic approach to a wide range of subjects: public events and festivities, urban views and landscapes, architecture and ancient ruins. He resides in Paris from 1639 to 1650, returning to Florence in the 1650s to work once again at the Medici court. In their inventiveness and freedom of expression, his prints—over a thousand of which are known—and countless drawings influence Italian as well as French artists.
The precociously gifted young Florentine painter Carlo Dolci (1616–1687) paints a bust-length portrait of Ainolfo de’ Bardi (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). Meticulously finished and showing a keen appreciation for Northern painting, the portrait is among the best examples of the refined and masterfully detailed portraits for which the master would be known throughout his career. Dolci also produces emotionally charged religious subjects, portrait miniatures, and drawings of exceptional merit.
Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669), by this time famous for his work in Rome, executes two frescoes, the Golden Age and Silver Age, in the Salla della Stufa of Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Pleased with the masterly works, Ferdinando II de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, invites Pietro to return and finish the cycle. He does this in 1641, adding the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Intended to represent the four ages of man, this decorative program also symbolizes the long and illustrious Medici lineage. This decorative program is further developed in Pietro’s next project, a series of ceiling frescoes for the grand-ducal apartments. Depicting astrological deities such as Jupiter, Mars, and Venus, the paintings—framed with one exception by elaborate stuccowork—allude in many details to the Medici as ideal rulers. Pietro works on the frescoes over several years, interrupted by other commissions; he leaves Florence in 1647, with work still incomplete. His finest pupil, Ciro Ferri (1634?–1689), completes the cycle in the 1660s.
Giovanna Garzoni (1600–1670), an accomplished painter of still lifes, is at work in Florence at the Medici court. Her compositions of botanical subjects, fruits, and vegetables are rendered with meticulous attention to detail and are sought after by influential patrons throughout Italy, including Charles Emanuel II, duke of Savoy, in Turin, and Cassiano dal Pozzo and Anna Colonna in Rome.
The Medici family sell their palace on the Via Larga to the Ricciardi, who enlarge it over the next decades. The splendid structure, begun in 1444 by Michelozzo di Bartolommeo (1396–1472) was once emblematic of the enormous wealth and power wielded by the Medici in Florence and throughout Italy; its sale is emblematic of the family’s financial and political decline.
During his reign as grand duke, Cosimo III de’ Medici vigorously undertakes the preservation of his family’s reputation for the distinguished patronage that once made their court the envy of Europe. To this end, he employs several illustrious scholars—including the biographer of artists, Filippo Baldinucci—travels widely, and is an avid collector of books and paintings, particularly Northern works.
Luca Giordano (1632–1705), a celebrated Neapolitan painter, is commissioned to fresco the cupola of the Corsini Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, promoting in its great success the Baroque style in Florence. In the following year, Giordano begins an allegorical fresco program (completed 1686) for the Palazzo Medici-Ricciardi.
At the death of Ferdinando Tacca, Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652–1725) is named court sculptor to the Medici. His dramatic late Baroque style, for which he is considered one of the finest Florentine sculptors of the period, owes much to three years of study in Rome (1673–76), where he is greatly influenced by Bernini and his followers. Foggini executes a number of portrait busts for the Medici, as well as furniture and decorative objects for the ducal household. His religious works include scenes from the life of Saint Andrea Corsini (finished 1691; Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence). Foggini is appointed official architect to the Medici in 1694.
Florentine Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) develops a keyboard instrument on which the player can modulate volume solely by changing the force with which the keys are struck. He calls the instrument gravicembalo col piano e forte (harpsichord with soft and loud), known today as the piano.
Architect Alessandro Galilei (1691–1737) is active in Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany. Galilei’s projects during this period—including the renovation of the choir of Cortona Cathedral to include a minimally ornamented triumphal arch, additions to the Villa Venuti, near Cortona, and a design (1724) for the oratory of the Church of the Madonna del Vivaio (destroyed, later restored) in Scarperia, Tuscany—reflect his adherence to a classical architectural vocabulary and his rejection of Baroque ornament in favor of purity of design. Galilei is one of the greatest proponents of the Neoclassical style in Italy.
At the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici (r. 1723–37)—an intemperate ruler whose reputation in youth for scholarly interests and intellectual capacity is superseded during his reign for that of decadence and debauchery—the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany passes to the House of Lorraine. The first Lorraine ruler is Francis Stephen (r. 1737–65), husband of Maria Theresa of Austria.
Luigi Vanvitelli (1700–1773) constructs the church and monastery complex of Montemorcino (completed 1762) in Perugia. While some interior motifs are inspired by the Baroque structures of Bernini, the clarity of the centralized plan takes Palladian design as its main influence and marks a shift toward the Neoclassical style that predominates in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Giovanni Battista Passeri (1694–1780) publishes Istorie delle pitture in majolica fatte in Pesaro e ne’ luoghi circonvicini, a treatise that praises the maiolica workshops in Pesaro as the equal of those at Faenza, Urbino, and Venice. The pottery industry at Pesaro, an important center of production since the Renaissance, experiences a particular surge of success during the mid-eighteenth century due to the mastery of several notable craftsmen working in the city: Giuseppe Bertolucci, Antonio Casali, Filippo Antonio Callegari, and Pietro Lei.
Sculptor Innocenzo Spinazzi (1726–1798) arrives in Florence. Born and trained in Rome, Innocenzo is skilled in the stylistic vocabulary of the antique as well as that of its contemporary exponents. In 1770, he is named court sculptor to Grand Duke Leopold I (r. 1765–90; later Emperor Leopold II, r. 1790–92), who he depicts in classical dress in a commanding portrait bust of 1771–74 (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). Spinazzi is the foremost sculptor working in Florence during this period, and serves also as professor of sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti from 1784 until his death.
General Napoleon I (1769–1821) invades Tuscany; French forces occupy Florence until 1814.
“Florence and Central Italy, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=eustc (October 2003)