Arezzo celebrates with an exhibition Eleonora Álvarez de Toledo, consort of Cosimo I de' Medici

From July 21 to Dec. 2, the Oratory of Saints Lorentino and Pergentino in Arezzo is hosting an exhibition dedicated to Eleanor of Toledo, wife of the Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de' Medici, on the 500th anniversary of her birth.

On the occasion of the celebrations for the Fifth Centenary of the birth of Eleonora Álvarez de Toledo (1522-1562), wife of the second duke (and first grand duke) of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Fraternita dei Laici of Arezzo, an association that for more than than 750 years has participated in the life of the city through its many activities also in the cultural and particularly historical-artistic fields, will be part of the Committee for the Celebrations of the Duchess promoted by the City of Florence. In this context, the Fraternity has organized, at one of its ancient oratories titled to Saints Lorentino and Pergentino, from July 21 to Dec. 2, an exhibition dedicated to Eleanor who, alongside her consort, was in the land of Arezzo on several occasions in the years between 1539 and 1544 and again in 1561 (in the time preceding the departure of the noblewoman of Spanish origin that took place the following year in Pisa). The exhibition is entitled Eleonora de Toledo Duchess of Tuscany. The sojourns in the land of the consort of Cosimo I de’ Medici.

Cosimo and Eleonora, who were united in marriage in June 1539, immediately began visiting the Dominion, going preferably to those areas, such as the land around Arezzo, that needed to be made more secure at a time when the ducal crown was not yet solidly in the hands of the young Medici. Setting up new fortifications, making contact with the recalcitrant local ruling classes, getting to know the peoples and lands-these were the motives that moved the very young couple to undertake such journeys. Naturally, as had already been the case during the stay of Pope Leo X in November 1515 and then during the two visits, in 1534 and 1536, of Alexander the first duke of the line, those honors worthy of princes of rank, whose memory has handed down not only in the documents of the ancient Municipality of Arezzo, but also in the memories of those who were able to witness the entrances and sojourns of the dukes and, of course, in the indispensable pages of Giorgio Vasari. Ephemeral apparatuses were set up, the gates of the city were festively paraded and, above all, the Palazzo dei Priori (now the seat of the Municipality) where Cosimo and Eleonora were hosted; plays were staged to “give pleasure” to the duchess and the court of noblewomen as well as to the numerous Spanish members of the retinue. A number of solemn masses were then attended, especially on August 1, 1540, when the victory d Montemurlo was to be commemorated in the Cathedral of San Donato. A not inconsiderable effort, even economically, for the city and its Priors but which, as we learn from the words of the aforementioned Vasari, a participant in those days, was also an opportunity for Arezzo’s artists to measure themselves against the scenes of comedies, with ephemeral apparatuses, with what, in dominant Florence, was now usual but for secluded Arezzo was less usual. And, certainly, those ducal sojourns must have left their mark on the people of Arezzo, not least because of the richness and novelty of the robes and hairstyles of the duchess and her attendant ladies but also because of those rules of etiquette that would be introduced into the duchy by Eleanor herself.

During these trips to the land of Arezzo, Cosimo and Eleonora on three occasions (in 1540, 1541 and 1544) also took themselves to the convent of La Verna, on theimpassable mountain donated to St. Francis by Messer Orlando Catani da Chiusi in Casentino in 1213, where in 1224 the Poor Man of Assisi received the Stigmata and which, over time, had been transformed from a primitive, poor foundation into a sanctuary among the first in Christendom. In such a place, which Alighieri himself remembers as a "raw sasso intra Tevere ed Arno," the Medici dukes were welcomed by the community of friars, and it was above all Eleonora, a deeply religious woman, who, from her first stay, weaved a very deep relationship with the convent. In fact, after producing a daughter, Maria, the couple needed a male heir to make the future of the dynasty even more secure, and so, Eleanor turned her prayers to St. Francis and made a vow that if she gave birth to a son she would name him Francesco, in honor of the saint, as was later the case in April of the following year. For this bond Eleanor, in particular, offered gifts to the convent over time (such as a series of illuminated codices in Florence between 1552 and 1553), patronized the construction of buildings, gave impetus to the activity of the apothecary’s shop, and finally, in addition to other testimonies of no less importance, in her will she arranged for a bequest of 1,000 ducats in favor of the Alvernine foundation, which would annually receive the interest.

To give an account of the dukes’ visits to Arezzo: Arezzo and La Verna in the exhibition, promoted by the Fraternita dei Laici, works (paintings, sculptures, illuminated and printed manuscripts, manuscripts, reliquaries, ceramic artifacts) will be displayed to illustrate Arezzo’s artistic milieu at the time of the dukes’ presence in the city (section I), a city in which Niccolò Soggi and Giovann’Antonio Lappoli - and a young but already well-entrenched Vasari in the Florentine temperament - were the painters called upon to create the ephemeral apparatuses, artists whose works, some of them previously unpublished, will be on display in the exhibition. At the same time, in another segment of the exhibition (section II), it is counted on to give an account of the many gifts that Duchess Eleonora addressed to the sanctuary of La Verna and which, to this day, are jealously guarded there.

Pictured: Bottega di Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Eleonora Álvarez de Toledo consort of Cosimo I de’ Medici (seventh-eighth decade of the 16th century; Panel, 67x52 cm; Florence, FGB Collection)

Arezzo celebrates with an exhibition Eleonora Álvarez de Toledo, consort of Cosimo I de' Medici
Arezzo celebrates with an exhibition Eleonora Álvarez de Toledo, consort of Cosimo I de' Medici

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