Where? A small room connected to the Hall of the Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio
Commissioned by? Francesco I de’ Medici
Created by? Giorgio Vasari in collaboration with Vincenzo Borghini and Giovanni Batista Adriani
What do you see? The most extravagant room in the Palazzo Vecchio is the Studiolo of Francesco I. It is completely decorated with paintings and sculptures. Most of the paintings and sculptures in this room are related to the four elements. Let’s highlight several of thes artworks in this room:
Backstory: This room was created for Francesco I de’ Medici who wanted to surround himself with the things he loved, which was pursuing his interests in chemistry and alchemy. The room was part of the private apartment of Francesco I and could be accessed only from his bedroom. That entrance was on the opposite side of the room from the current entrance, which is on the side of the Hall of the Five Hundred and did not exist around that time. Francesco I used this room as a cabinet of curiosities to store rare items, including natural items and stones, which he collected while traveling the world. He stored this collection in about 20 cabinets that filled up the walls of the room. Each cabinet was decorated with a painting that represented what could be found inside. Unfortunately, none of these rare items has been preserved.
Symbolism: The four walls of the Studiolo are associated with the four elements: air, earth, fire, and water. This theme was inspired by Francesco’s interest in nature. Each of the walls represents one theme. The wall where you enter the room represents earth and the short wall on the opposite end represents air. The wall on the left represents water and the wall on the right fire.
Who is Francesco I de’ Medici? Francesco I de’ Medici (1541-1587) was the second Grand Duke of Tuscany and successor to his father Cosimo I de’ Medici. He was in charge of Tuscany from 1574-1587. Just like his father he had a great interest in art and continued to support the great artists of his time. He was also very interested in science and nature, especially alchemy and chemistry.
Who is Vasari? Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) was an architect, historian, painter, and writer. He is best known for his book describing the lives of many of the most well-known Renaissance artists (Amazon link to the book). His colleagues regarded him as a great architect. He played an important role in the design of the Hall of the Five Hundred and is also known from his design of the Vasari Corridor and the Uffizi Museum.
Fun fact: The Palazzo Vecchio has many secrets, such as hidden rooms, secret staircases, and secret spaces in the roof of the Hall of the Five Hundred. One of those secret entrances can be found in the Studiolo. The entrance from the Hall of the Five Hundred only opened in the 19th century and the original entrance is on the other side of the room (it is the panel without a painting). This secret entrance or exit leads to the bedroom of the Duke. If you are interested in these secrets, you can book a tour that covers these secret passages.
Interested in a copy for yourself? A canvas of The Alchemist’s Laboratory by Stradanus; a canvas of the Wool Factory by Mirabello Cavalori (Amazon links). Copies of the Studiolo and the other artworks discussed here are unavailable or only available at much higher prices.
Written by Eelco Kappe