It’s common today to talk about building your own brand – everyone from world leaders to early teens worries about their image, shapes their online personality, creates a character that straddles reality and imagination.
For the Medici family, the rulers of Florence and Tuscany in the 16th century, and the patrons of some of the Renaissance’s most famous works of art, the tools to achieve this were very different from those of today. However, the goal was the same.
Wesleyan’s Davison Arts Center (DAC) participates in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512-1570 ”, currently on display until October 11. The exhibition brings together more than 90 works, including portraits, engravings, busts, medals and armor, to describe the rise to power of the Medici family after a period of exile, and to show how they used the culture to shape public perception.
The DAC lends a rare 16th century print commemorating the reign of the Medici over Tuscany. The Met requested the work in early 2020.
“I find this thing endlessly fascinating. It’s amazing how these fragile pieces of paper, and all works of art, survive through the centuries. To be able to work with these [works] and sharing them with students and the public is something I’m really grateful for, ”said Miya Tokumitsu, curator of the Davison Art Center.
CAD’s contribution to the exhibit is a 7.2 x 7 inch print– essentially a piece of political propaganda. The prints in this particular print, made in honor of Cosimo I de Medici’s rise to power, could have been passed from person to person, pasted into books or given as gifts, Tokumitsu said. Distributing prints like this was a way for people of the day to learn about major works of art and the persuasive efforts of their rulers. “This print is small enough that it could have been displayed in various ways,” she said.
The iconography of the print is extremely specific and tells a particular story of political power. “It takes sides. It’s very pro-Medici, shameless and unambiguous, ”Tokumitsu said.
The goddess Flora, personification of the city of Florence, dominates the print, her wings bearing the names of the Tuscan cities united under the reign of the Medici.
Flora crowns two portraits of sovereigns. Alessandro de ‘Medici, the first Duke of Florence, is represented on the left against a background of Florence. His successor Cosimo I de Medici is depicted on the right, described in the print as the “Grand Duke of Tuscany”, with an elaborate Grand Ducal diadem above him. Cosimo sits high above the landscape of Siena, the last of the rebel towns to fall into the hands of the Medici.
Read correctly, the engraving clearly indicates to the viewer who is the legitimate ruler of Florence: “Thus, it is Cosimo who really deserves the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany, for it was he who had finally united Tuscany under the domination. of the Medici. according to the exhibition catalog.
“He uses all kinds of strategies: allegory, personification, portrait, landscape, heraldry. (Engraver Martino) Rota is playing all the cards, ”Tokumitsu said.
So what is the modern equivalent of this print? One possibility is Barack Obama’s famous Shepard Fairey print with the word “Hope”.
“It’s a pretty good comparison,” Tokumitsu said. “Obviously we have a different political system – the Medici were hereditary dukes and we are in a modern democracy. But it’s pretty funny what doesn’t change. The portrait format in the Obama image is a bust portrait, just like what we are looking at with Alessandro and Cosimo. This front bust portrait is a durable format. It’s also an impression, which I think is very important. He uses text in a very new way. So there are a lot of parallels. There is something really enduring about being a leader.
The Davison Art Center collection is available online at Search the Davison Art Center collection. Digital images of over 6,000 non-copyrighted works of art are available for direct, free download as high-quality JPEG or TIFF files.