Guide to visiting Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Palazzo Medici Riccardi is one of the most important Renaissance palaces in the whole city of Florence. Located in Via Cavour, in the heart of the historic center, Palazzo Medici Riccardi is today the seat of the Metropolitan Council but was originally the private residence of the Medici family. Despite the presence of some public offices, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence can be visited and I assure you that it is absolutely worth it. Inside you can admire some wonderful environments such as the famous Chapel of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli and the Luca Giordano Gallery.
The birth of Palazzo Medici Riccardi: Michelozzo’s project
Around the middle of the fifteenth century, Cosimo the Elder, patriarch of the Medici family, decided to build a private residence in what at the time was called Via Larga (now Via Cavour). It was a strategic position a stone’s throw from the Duomo and not far from Palazzo Vecchio.
Initially Cosimo had thought of hiring Filippo Brunelleschi who, according to Vasari’s testimony, proposed him a “too sumptuous and magnificent” project. We do not know if this project was actually so exaggerated but Cosimo decided to entrust the construction of his palace to Michelozzo who was himself a great architect, but had a more discreet style than Brunelleschi. This is because Cosimo, as a skilled politician as he was, understood that a palace that was too sumptuous could have unleashed the envy of other Florentine families, with unpredictable consequences.
Michelozzo designed a solid and imposing building but at the same time also sober and austere without giving up a good dose of elegance. Cubic in shape, the palace develops around a central courtyard surrounded by a loggia with Corinthian columns. The idea of recovering classical elements can also be found in the contemporary Palazzo Rucellai, designed by Leon Battista Alberti.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the art and culture of the Renaissance
In a short time the palace was enriched with a priceless art collection consisting of the works of some of the greatest Renaissance masters as well as classical sculptures from Rome. At the end of the fifteenth century, Palazzo Medici became an important cultural center frequented by young artists, including Michelangelo, intellectuals and humanists such as Pico della Mirandola and Agnolo Poliziano.
With the exception of the period coinciding with the second expulsion of the Medici from Florence (1494-1512), this remained their palace until 1540, when Cosimo I with his wife Eleonora I of Toledo decided to move to Palazzo Vecchio, which for the occasion was renovated and enlarged. Nine years later Palazzo Vecchio was also left by the couple who moved to the even larger and more luxurious Palazzo Pitti, but that’s another story…
Palazzo Medici remained the property of the Medici for a long time even though it had now been delegated to the cadet descendants of the family. In 1659, Grand Duke Ferdinando II decided to sell the old palace to the Riccardi, a wealthy banker family. This change of ownership explains the reason for the double name “Medici Riccardi”.
The Riccardis made numerous changes to the building that were added to those already made during the sixteenth century, when the large windows on the ground floor were created. The building was doubled in size while maintaining the same appearance externally, in full compliance with Michelozzo’s project. In the seventeenth century the predominant style was the Baroque which in Palazzo Medici Riccardi we find in its maximum expression thanks to the magnificent Luca Giordano Gallery. In the same period the prestigious Biblioteca Riccardiana was also created, where a very important book heritage is still preserved today with some more unique than rare manuscripts. The monumental staircase, designed by Giovan Battista Foggini, was also built in those years.
In 1810, the Riccardis, struck by a serious financial crisis, were forced to sell the building to the Grand Ducal government, which set up some administrative offices there. In 1839 a second important library was set up, the Moreniana, which joined the Riccardiana.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi was also the seat of the Ministry of the Interior at the time of Florence Capital (1865) and subsequently passed to the Province of Florence.
Facade of Palazzo Medici Riccardi
The facade of Palazzo Medici Riccardi is characterized by the extensive use of ashlar, which was usually used only in public government buildings. Originally, on the ground floor there was a corner loggia that was walled up in the sixteenth century, when the large windows that we can still admire today were also built. The three floors that make up the building are well outlined by string courses. On the first and second floors there are refined mullioned windows: those on the upper floor have wider frames in order to make the most of the perspective. Even the ashlar, more protruding on the ground floor and flattened on the first floor, is designed to give impetus to the structure.
The courtyard of Palazzo Medici Riccardi is an environment in which harmony and elegance reign supreme. All the architectural and decorative elements are designed to create a symmetrical effect. The great decorative variety is the result of an exquisite contamination between classical, Renaissance and Baroque elements. On the ground floor we find the loggia, immediately above a medallion and festoon decoration with various Medici coats of arms and mythological representations. In correspondence with each arch of the loggia, we find a mullioned window on the first floor, while the upper floor is completely illuminated by large windows.
Going beyond the courtyard, you reach the garden. Enclosed between the palace and a high perimeter wall, the garden is embellished with rich stuccoes, eighteenth-century decorations and some statues. The space is divided by four rectangular flower beds also bordered by large pots with citrus plants. On the north side you can admire the fountain with the Riccardian Hercules which dates back to the 18th century.
Visit to the Museum of Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Exhibitions at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
The museum of Palazzo Medici Riccardi is spread over three levels between the ground floor, the first floor and the basement. On the ground floor, in addition to the courtyard and the garden, there are exhibition spaces where temporary exhibitions are regularly set up. The themes of these exhibitions are the most varied; among these were “BANKSY This is not a photo opportunity” (2018), “Heroes – Bowie by Sukita” (2019) and “Tutankhamun: journey to eternity” (2021).
Percorso Archeologico and Museo dei Marmi
The basement includes an archaeological itinerary and the Museum of Marbles. The Percorso Archeologico, which is accessed from the Cortile dei Muli, was opened in 2019 after the excavations carried out in the building. Several Roman remains and an ancient burial dated between the 5th-7th century AD have been found here. in addition to other structures dating back to the time of construction of the building. Opened in 2005, the Museo dei Marmi collects in three rooms some precious marble sculptures from the Roman era that were part of the Riccardi collection.
Going up to the first floor you will find the two most beautiful and important rooms of the building: the Chapel of the Magi and the Luca Giordano Gallery.
Cappella dei Magi
The Cappella dei Magi was built as a private chapel of the Medici family. In 1459 the Medici decided to entrust its decoration to the painter Benozzo Gozzoli, a pupil of Beato Angelico. This turned out to be a decidedly appropriate choice because Benozzo Gozzoli created a wonderful decoration in front of which one cannot help but be amazed.
Along the three main walls, the artist painted the Cavalcade of the Magi, a religious subject that hides (so to speak…) the presence of numerous characters of the time among which various members of the Medici family (Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero il Gottoso and Cosimo the Elder) and other illustrious personalities.
The attention to detail and the characterization of the various characters make this work one of the greatest masterpieces of the fifteenth century.
Finally, on the altar of the chapel there is the altarpiece depicting the Adoration of the Child, a contemporary copy of the painting by Filippo Lippi, now in Berlin, while the wooden choir is attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo.
Opening hours, tickets and reservations
The Museum of Palazzo Medici is open every day except Wednesday, with the following hours: 9am – 7pm.
Tickets cost 7 euros for the full and 4 euros for the reduced; if you want to visit the exhibitions too, the price rises to 10 for the interior and 6 for the reduced. There are free tickets for different categories.
To book a guided tour, you must contact the MUS.E association which organizes various types of visits. Some visits are designed for schools, others for families with children and still others for groups of adults. The visit to the museum usually lasts an hour.
For more information on timetables and tickets, I suggest you to visit the official website of the museum.