Villa Medici at Careggi

The Villa Medici at Careggi is a patrician villa in the hills near Florence in Tuscany. The garden nestles behind a high wall and is famed as the place where Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464) assembled his Platonic academy. The Gardens, have undergone several radical changes over the years, including one in the nineteenth century. The gardens of the Villa at Careggi were already important in the day of Lorenzo the Magnificent and therefore were designed in accordance with ideals that can be traced to antiquity. Unfortunately, not a trace remains of the original layout because the gardens, like the villa, had been redesigned several times. Bought by the Medici family in 1417, the villa was inherited following the death of Giovanni di Bicci dei Medici by his son Cosimo the Elder, who commissioned Michelozzo to renovate the property. A great deal of work was done, the focus of attention being the characteristically trapezoid court, with loggias. Michelozzo also created the loggias on the upper floors, opening the building up to the garden and the surrounding countryside. The villa was among the first [1] of a number of Medici villas, notable as the site of the Platonic academy founded by Cosimo de' Medici, who died at the villa in 1464. Like most villas of Florentine families, the villa remained a working farm that helped render the family self-sufficient. Cosimo's architect there, as elsewhere, was Michelozzo, who remodelled the fortified villa which had something of the character of a castello. Its famous garden is walled about, like a medieval garden, overlooked by the upper-storey loggias, with which Michelozzo cautiously opened up the villa's structure. Michelozzo's Villa Medici in Fiesole has a more outward-looking, Renaissance character.

The property was purchased in 1417. At the death of Giovanni di Bicci, Cosimo il Vecchio set about remodelling the beloved villa around its loggia-enclosed central courtyard. When Cosimo the Elder died, at Careggi itself in 1464, and his son followed him to the grave just five years later, the nephew Lorenzo il Magnifico became the head of the Medici family. It was to this villa that Lorenzo brought his friends, members of the Plato Academy, and here that he spent the last years of his life, until his own death in 1492. Surviving descriptions of the garden as it was in the time of Lorenzo speak of vegetation composed of myrtles, olives, oaks, poplars, pines, plane trees, citrus trees and such exotic spices as frankincense and myrrh. The description suggests that the garden was in two parts, one for the cultivation of flowers and fruit and another "wilder" part. After Lorenzo il Magnifico's death, the villa gradually began to fall into a state of disrepair, a decline that was halted by cardinal Carlo who, after 1615, undertook extensive projects to transform the interior and the garden. Having passed into the hands of the Lorraine household, when they came to power in the Grand-Duchy following the demise of the Medici dynasty, the property was bought in 1779 by Vincenzo Orsi. The Orsi family in turn sold the estate to English geologist and natural history scholar Francis Sloane, in 1848. It was Sloane who transformed the garden into a "romantic" park, introducing many exotic trees, many of which still stand (Lebanon and Himalayan cedars, Californian sequoias, Greek arbutus (or Greek Strawberry Tree) and palms)[2], and constructed an orangery with a valuable collection of citrus fruits and many varieties of palm tree. After Sloane's death the property changed hands several times, and was eventually bought by a hospital, the Arcispedale di Santa Maria Nuova, in 1936.

Art in Villa Medici at Careggi

The Medici inventory of 1492 records the Entombment of Christ hanging in the Medici villa in Careggi, which was built by Cosimo de'Medici. The figure of Nicodemus, dressed in expensive clothing and gazing out towards the spectator, has been identified as a portrait of Cosimo. Cosimo also owned Rogier's small panel of the Virgin with the Child and Four Saints, painted in 1450, the year Rogier visited Italy, though there is no direct evidence that Rogier ever visited Florence. The work follows the Entombment of Christ from the predella of Fra Angelico's San Marco Altarpiece, painted around 1440. Fra Angelico's influence is evident in the display of the dead man, shown almost standing, with Mary and John holding his arms one on each side, and more particularly in the hill with the tomb in the rock, unusual in Flemish art. The San Marco altarpiece was itself an important piece of Medici patronage.

Click here to access the gallery containing various photos of the Villa

Click here, to learn more about the Villa Medicea di Careggi on Wikipedia in Italian


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