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March 14, 2003 - Image 76

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-14

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The Medici And The Jews

Despite general tolerance, Florence's Jewish ghetto was created under Medici rule.

diary than a history of the Medici and their empire. That's
the fundamental value of the Medici papers."

CINDY FRENKEL
Special to the Jewish News

T

he upcoming exhibition at the DIA,
Jewish Connections
"Magnificenza! Michelangelo, the Medici and the
Art of Late Renaissance Florence," has special res-
The Medici family had substantial connections to the
onance for the Jewish community of metropolitan Detroit Jews of northern Italy during their years of dominance.
because the Medici Grand Dukes, especially Cosimo I,
The family, pre-eminent in Florence for 200 years before
had a special relationship with the Jews of northern Italy.
the beginning of the Grand Ducal period and then for
another 200 years, early on established business relation-
It is believed that in 1544 when a Jewish "gentle-
woman" had a conversation with Cosimo I and (his wife)
ships with many northern Italian Jews.
Eleonora de' Medici about religious matters, that the
These Jews were solid members of both society and the
woman was Benvegnita Abravanel, Her family had been
business community, where they worked as bankers and
tutors to the Spanish royal court in Naples, Italy, where
in the artisan guilds as producers of wool and weavers of
Eleonora lived before her marriage to Cosirn.o in 1539.
the finest silks, satins and brocades for which Florence
became well known.
Eleonora had befriended Benvegnita, and this friendship
continued after Eleonora's mar-
Some historians praise the members of the
riage, when the Abravanel family
Medici family as being quite "liberal" in their
moved to Florence to be near her.
dealings with the Jews. The reality was that the
How do we know this?
Jews' relationship to the Medici and their degree
Through minutely detailed
of autonomy were defined by which pope ruled
archival material, consisting of a
in Rome and his relationship with the Medici.
virtually complete collection of
When Cosimo I assumed power as Grand
Medici correspondence known as
Duke in 1537, he was anxious to afford the
the Medici Grand Ducal Archive.
Jewish community opportunities in finance
The Archive includes receipts,
and other businesses. But when he believed
transcripts of conversations and
that maintenance of his political and religious
records of all kinds of activities of
position required him to follow Rome's
the Medici during their daily
orders, he acquiesced to the pope's demands
business as the rulers and Grand
for the creation of a Jewish ghetto.
Dukes of Florence between 1537
Between September of 1570 and the fall of
and 1743.
the following year, a census of Tuscan Jews was
These papers are collected in
conducted, and all of them were brought to
more than 6,000 volumes, which
Florence. The Florentine ghetto was the only
take up literally a kilometer (5/8
place in Tuscany where Jews were then allowed
of a mile) of shelf space in the
to live and work. Apart from their separation
Giovanni Bandini: "Bust of Cosimo
Archivio di Stato (state archives)
in the ghetto, the authorities and people of
I,
Grand Duke ofTuscany" ca. 1572; Florence treated the Jews with rare tolerance.
in Florence.
marble. The Detroit Institute ofArts.
The Medici papers are now par-
The ghetto was finally liberated in 1848, but
tially available on the World Wide
the area remained visible in Florence until
Web, thanks to the Medici Archive Project (MAP), a non-
about 1890, when it was totally destroyed. Elegant city
profit scholarly research organization established in the United blocks were created in its place. It was located in the area
States in 1995.
where the Savoy Hotel is now located, on the Piazza Strossi.
With the establishment of MAP to fund the technology
Two volumes in the Medici Archive, Magistrate Supremo
4449 and 4450, clearly document the ghetto's creation.
and provide research scholarships, project head Dr.
Edward Goldberg, headquartered in Italy, is realizing his
Soon, the Medici Archive Project will publish these two
dream of supervising a staff of scholars as they retrieve the
newly found volumes for scholars and members of the
world Jewish community.
mountains of information and "shovel" it into a specially
tailored state-of-the-art humanities database system.
Also included will be essays written by contemporary
Sarah Weiner Keidan, a metro Detroiter who is a vice chair historians and experts on Jewish history. Although the full
of the MAP board of trustees and who teaches at Oakland
work is to be published in Italian, the essays and several
Community College, describes the archive this way:
explanatory pieces also will be published in English. El
"The information is fascinating; it takes you straight
back in time, as if you've dropped into life in the late
The public may view the Medici Archive Project
Renaissance. You can read about events in the planning or
online at www.medici.org .
just after they happened; you can read about the most
For a more complete history of the Jews in Florence,
important artists, sculptors, architects and political
go to www.usisrael.org/jsource/vjw/Florence.html.
alliances of the time, more like reflections from a personal

.

3/14
2003

76

MASTERPIECES from page 75
brought internationally renowned
artists to Florence.
His son, Cosimo II, ruled only
about 10 years, from 1609-1621, due
to ill health. He focused his attentions
indoors, decorating the Pitti Palace,
and filling his court with music and
theater.

Michelangelo And The Medici

The pieces by Michelangelo allow us
to see how he influenced the entire
European art world. A wooden cruci-
fix he was carving just before his death
— a sketch for a larger work for his
nephew — is among the exhibit's most
spiritually moving pieces. One can see
the knife marks, as if he is about to
return to finish it.
David-Apollo (ca. 1525-30) is an
extraordinary sculpture, which was
also left unfinished. It exemplifies
Michelangelo's revolutionary influ-
ence on composition by employing a
figura serpentinata, or twisted figure,
which he intended to be viewed
equally from all angles.
"He had a great intellectual capacity
for seeing the figure within the marble
block,' says curator Alan Darr about this
unfinished work. "Some people believe
that sometimes when [Michelangelo]
carved, he may have left the figure
unfinished or unpolished because he
could foresee the final form."
Additionally, he was always pulled
away from his work by various
patrons — particularly by popes in
Rome (two of whom were Medici)
to work on the Sistine Chapel and
the rest of St. Peter's Cathedral,
where he was the architect.
In 1534, Michelangelo had began a
self-imposed exile to Rome that was to
last for the rest of his life, both
because of his commitments there and
his political views. He harbored repub-
lican sympathies and didn't approve of
the Medici's autocratic control of
Florence, says Larry Feinberg of the
Art Institute of Chicago.
Indeed, "because Apollo-David was
a republican symbol, Michelangelo's
sculpture would have been perceived
as politically incorrect, especially by
Cosimo I," who acquired it and
sought to rekindle the relationship
Michelangelo had enjoyed under the
patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici
during the artist's youth in Florence.
Nevertheless, Cosimo I continued
to commission pieces by
Michelangelo, who was 62 when
Cosimo came to power.
In 1563, the two founded Florence's

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