Fauburg Saint-Marcel factory, The Colossus of Rhodes or The Surprise Attack, Wool, silk, silver and gold, After 1607, 494 x 165.3 cm, Mobilier National & Manufactures des Gobelins, Paris.
Bernardino Mei, Artemisia drinks the ashes of her husband Mausolus, Ca. 1654, 157 x 180 cm, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Siena.
Domenico Fetti, Artemisia, 124,46 x 106,68 x 7 cm, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NY.
Maria de' Medici, Maria de' Medici Authographic Letter autografa to Eleonora Gonzaga, Ink on paper with seal, 1586, 420 x 282 mm, Archivio di Stato, Mantova.
+39 055 27 76 461/06
Women in Power:
Caterina and Maria
The Return to Florence
of Two Queens of France
October 24, 2008-
February 8, 2009
On 30 June 1559, the young Florentine bride of French King Henri II suddenly found herself a widow. In the failing light, her dashing and headstrong 40-year-old husband was killed in a friendly joust by the young captain of his Scottish guard whose lance accidentally pierced the king’s eye through his metal visor. In a tragedy said to have been foretold by Nostradamus, Caterina dé Medici lost a husband and was surrounded by enemies, the Dukes of Guise and Montmorency, each vying for power over her frail 15-year-old son Francis II, the new King of France. As her own childhood had been shaped by intrigues and assassination attempts, Caterina knew how important it was to keep and exercise power.
Women in Power tells the story of one of the ways in which the two Medici Queens of France used powerful images to legitimise their claims to rule over warring families and factions at a time when women in power were rare. The exhibition brings to Florence 15 monumental tapestries portraying The Story of Artemisia commissioned by Caterina dé Medici (1519-89) in the 1560s and completed in the early 17th century by Maria dé Medici (1573-1642), herself widowed by the brutal assassination of her husband Henri IV, as illustrations of the education of the ideal prince, her son the future Louis XIII.
The tapestries, of different sizes but each close to five metres in height, became separated until 2005 when the seven tapestries owned by Mobilier National of Paris were joined by the eight acquired by Chevalier Atelier. Restored to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Manufacture des Gobelins founded by Henri IV in 1607, these magnificent works come to Florence, the native city of their patrons, for the first time.
To justify her claim to rule as Regent for her three sons who in turn became kings of France, Caterina appropriated the stories of two very different Artemisias from antiquity. The first was the warrior queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, an ally of the Persian King Xerxes when he invaded Greece, who commanded five ships at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. The second Artemisia was the widow of King Mausolus who reigned from 352 to 350 BC after the death of her husband. She was renowned for her extraordinary grief at his loss and was said to have mixed his ashes in her daily drink. She became celebrated as the builder of the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, the great monument dedicated to her husband’s memory that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. She also successfully defended her city from rebellious ships sent from Rhodes that had been conquered by Mausolus. By weaving the two stories together, Caterina projected herself as both the grieving widow and the powerful ruler.
Tapestry weaving dates to ancient Egypt. In medieval times, tapestries were one of the most important forms of artistic expression that proclaimed the owner’s wealth, power and status. They made rooms more colourful and warmer by insulating stone walls and they could be taken down, rolled up, and moved easily from place to place. The Artemisia tapestries in this exhibition are superb examples of the skill and dedication of the artisans in the royal tapestry workshops at les Gobelins in Paris, who laboured for years following the designs of some of the most gifted artists of the time, translating them into miracles of gold, silver, and coloured thread.
Further sections of the exhibition expand on the themes depicted by the tapestries as well as studying in depth the characters of the two Medici queens through portraits and works of art loaned from various museums to illustrate the extraordinary refinement that characterised their lives and their patronage. Caterina favoured the French poets of the Pléiade (a group of seven French writers of the 16th century, led by Pierre de Ronsard) while Maria gave numerous commissions to Rubens and other major artists.
Galleria degli Uffizi has loaned two paintings by Jacopo Chimenti called l’Empoli (1551-1640) depicting the marriages of Caterina to Henri II in 1553 and of Maria to Henri IV in 1600 as well as portraits of Maria by Santi de Tito (1536-1603) and by Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569-1622). A portrait of Maria at the age of 56 in 1631 by Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) from the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, and a 17th century cameo with portraits of Maria and Henri from the Musée du Louvre are amongst the important loans from French museums.
Several curious pieces include a silk fabric that shows Maria dressed as Diana, a letter with one of her drawings, a small canvas that portrays her at an outdoor banquet with her husband Henri IV, a 17th century terracotta dish depicting Henri and his family and a precious jewellery collection. Other treasures include a rock crystal, silver-gilt and enamel casket, 1532, and a rock crystal and enamelled gold Diane de Poitiers cup, named after Henri II’s mistress, from the Museo degli Argenti in Florence.
This exhibition also provides an exceptional opportunity to bring the myth of Artemisia into the 21st century. Just as Caterina dé Medici "rewrote" the myth of the two Artemesias, fusing them into a single potent symbol of her right to rule, the myth of Artemisia will be again rewritten, this time by Italy’s leading artist of graphic novels, Giuseppe Palumbo. The graphic novel Eternal Artemisia will be published to coincide with the exhibition, and Palumbo and his students from Florence’s renowned school for graphic novels will be hosting regular workshops throughout the exhibition.
Francesco Furini, Artemisia prepares to drink the ashes of her husband Mausolo, Oil on canvas, 1630 ca., 110 x 98 x 2,5 cm, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven CT.