The gifts of the Medici family to the Madonna of Impruneta
The cult of the Madonna of Impruneta reached its climax with the Medici dynasty that came to define her as the Family Madonna”. If, during the grand duchy of Cosimo I, rather averse to exterior manifestations, there were only two processions, it was especially during the regency of Cristina of Lorraine and of Maria Maddalena of Austria, and so under Cosimo III, that the cult of the Madonna of Impruneta was in great favor.
Related to Maria Maddalena of Austria is one of the most refined objects kept in the Hall of Silver in the Museum. It is the Reliquary of the Cross made by Cosimo Merlini in 1620. The reliquary was donated by Maria Maddalena of Austria to Piero de’ Buondelmonti, parish priest of Impruneta, to keep the two large splinters from the cross, “one of the largest portions of this sacrosanct wood that is venerated in all of Christendom” (G. B. Casotti 1714, p. 35), donated by the celebrated condottiere Pippo Spano.
Again linked to Maria Maddalena of Austria is the altar set composed of four cross holder candlesticks with a cross, which was already listed in the Inventari (inventories) of her relics (Archivio di Stato di Firenze), even if it was donated to the Madonna by Cristina of Lorraine on the occasion of the thanksgiving procession to Impruneta on 2nd October 1633, as one reads in a margin note of the same manuscript and as confirmed by the Nota (list) of the gifts published by Francesco Rondinelli, the Grand Duke’s librarian.
In the same Nota, among the objects donated by the Medicis, is mentioned “a beautiful silver sepulcher, inside of which is the head of Saint Sixtus, the first pope and martyr”. In reality, this beautiful reliquary decorated at the top with the Medici-Lorraine armorial bearings and bearing a statuette of Saint Sixtus, was commissioned to the goldsmith Simone Pignoni in 1614 by the Bishop of Fiesole Bartolomeo Lanfredini in order to hold – as written in the inscription – the relics of Saint Romulus, first Bishop of Fiesole and the saint connected to the Impruneta legend. How and when the reliquary became part of the Medici patrimony is not known.
In addition, Rondinelli mentions two silver vessels donated by the Grand Dukes that, even though missing, must have been similar to the ones donated by the metropolitan Florentine clergy and by the noble Corsini, Salviati and Niccolini families to adorn the balustrade of the Virgin’s aedicule. Next to the sovereigns, other figures from the Medici court brought precious gifts from the grand ducal workshops to Impruneta, such as the 1635 Crucifix in silver and ebony donated by the Gran Balì Andrea Cioli, Florentine senator who was an ambassador under Ferdinando I, Cosimo II and Ferdinando II, finally becoming the Grand Duke’s secretary.
Probably related to a court’s commission, even if undocumented, is the extraordinary pyx of 1637 by Cosimo Merlini, one of the most refined goldsmiths in the service of the Medicis; it has been defined a “real Eucharistic catechesis” for its particularly elaborate iconographic scheme (A. Paolucci 1980).
A chalice from the workshop of Franz Ignaz Stadler in Augusta is connected to Anna Maria Luisa dei Medici, wife of the Palatine Elector and great devotee of the Virgin of Impruneta. In the Archivio della Fabbriceria di Santa Maria, there are documents related to other gifts sent by Anna Maria Luisa from Germany, such as the two large silver vases with flowers and two candlesticks decorated with tendrils, sent in 1712 as an ex-voto offering for the recovery of her husband (G. B. Casotti 1714, p. 279).
Certainly, the most beautiful and valuable gift was the frontal in silver and bronze with precious stones made according to the design of Giovan Battista Foggini “by the most skillful craftsmen of the Royal Gallery”, Cosimo Merlini the Younger and Bernardo Holzmann; donated by Cosimo III, it depicts the Grand Duke kneeling in humble prayer at the altar of the Madonna. This time the Madonna had not fulfilled the miracle and, on 30th October 1713, Grand Prince Ferdinando died, marking with his death the unavoidable decline of the Medici dynasty.
by Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani
in, Museo del Tesoro di Santa Maria dell’Impruneta, Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio, a cura di Caterina Caneva. Polistampa 2005