Uffizi, tribute to Cosimo I begins with exhibition on the prince's hundred lanzi

Uffizi, tribute to Cosimo I kicks off: from June 5 to Sept. 29, 2019, the Florence museum hosts the exhibition 'One Hundred Lances for the Prince.

The Uffizi Galleries are dedicating a triptych of exhibitions to Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, whose 500th anniversary of his birth (Cosimo I was born in Florence on June 12, 1519) and the 400th anniversary of his appointment as grand duke (in 1569) falls this year. The first of the three exhibitions takes place in the Sale di Levante of the Uffizi from June 5 to September 29, 2019, and is titled Cento lanzi per il principe: the exhibition, curated by Maurizio Arfaioli, Pasquale Focarile and Marco Merlo intends to focus on the “lanzi,” the guard of liveried German soldiers with whom Cosimo I chose to protect himself and who would continue to render their services to the Medici until 1738. The exhibition takes place on the second floor of the Uffizi partly because, from the windows of the rooms, it is possible to admire the Loggia dell’Orcagna in Piazza della Signoria, also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi for having been the headquarters of the German Guard of the Uffizi in those years.

“Lanzi” is an abbreviation for “lanzichenecchi” (from the German Landsknecht, literally “servant of the earth”), but the Florentine halberdiers were not really lanzichenecchi: the latter term was in fact used to designate mercenary infantrymen who came from a specific area of Germany (Rhine valley, Alsace, Württemberg, Vorarlberg and Tyrol) and who were mainly employed in the wars of Italy (from 1494 to 1559). The Medici’s “lanzi,” on the other hand, were more properly Trabanten (“trabanti”), or bodyguards: this was the term by which they defined themselves. Moreover, they came from a much wider area than what was commonly understood at the time as “Germany” (from South Tyrol to Holland). However, because they spoke German and because the Florentines had experienced the Lansquenets during the siege of 1529-1530, the word “lanzi” was the one most commonly used by the locals instead of the more correct “trabanti.”

The arrival of the lanzi in Florence in 1541 was one of the manifestations of Cosimo I’s loyalty to Emperor Charles V of Habsburg: long before he became Duke of Florence, Cosimo had in fact been able to see in action several times the Guard of the cien Alemanes (one hundred Germans) who followed the emperor on all his pilgrimages. For almost two hundred years, until 1738, the lanzi played a crucial function within the Medici court. Their main task was to defend the person of the sovereign and his closest associates, so in depictions of events related to the sovereign, his soldiers almost always appear, easily identifiable thanks to their flamboyant costumes and their iconic weapon: thehalberd.

The exhibition traverses the history of this militia from various aspects (social, cultural, military): four sections display about ninety works including armor, weapons, clothing, engravings, paintings, documents and books, which tell the story of the lanzi guard and their history, without neglecting the impact they had on city life. The tale therefore involves the people as much as the characters of the court, from the dwarves to Duchess Eleonora da Toledo. The public will also find objects of great value, beginning with what remains ofCosimo I’s armor, and Captain Fernberger’s splendid armor embossed with the Medici coat of arms, from the Künsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, as well as weapons, objects, engravings and portraits. The guards were iconic images of princely power, capable, with their mere appearance, of transforming any space and situation into a “court scene.” After some 200 years of faithful service, they were the last vestige of the old regime to leave their post, remaining as escorts to the Electress Palatine until the arrival in Florence, in March 1738, of the Lorraine’s Swiss Guard, which took their place. The review is also accompanied by music that reproduces the songs that the lanzi used to sing, or the ironic songs that the Florentines, during carnival, sang in Macaronic German.

“The Medici Archive Project’s archival studies of German halberdiers in Florence,” comments the director of the Uffizi Galleries, Eike D. Schmidt, “have uncovered a wealth of previously unpublished information, bringing to light forgotten or unknown works of art, and now offer a new reading for countless figurative documents of the period related to the history of Florence at the time of the Lansquenets.”

“The heritage of the Uffizi Galleries,” the director adds, “extends to the Loggia dei Lanzi, an extraordinary open-air museum, packed with some of the world’s most famous sculptural masterpieces and visited by thousands of people every day. Tourists wander enchanted among the statues, look out from the parapets to admire the square, or the very long telescope toward Via della Ninna and Via de’ Neri, rest on the stone seats, but they often do not know who moved around those stones in the past, where the name of this unique space in the world comes from. Since its construction in the fourteenth century, the Loggia has been the scene of solemn city ceremonies for centuries, but it changed its name when German soldiers, the Lansquenets, whom the duke employed (as he wrote to Andrea Doria on June 29, 1541, ”promising me from them, besides fidelity, much less annoyance than from Italian soldiers“) camped in the neighboring areas. Aside from the expression of feudal deference to the emperor implied by the call of halberdiers from German-speaking lands, the fact that the duke had decided to constitute the body and court guard with forces from distant lands reveals the distrust he had for his fellow citizens: a few years after his rise to power, a division still simmered in the city between the followers of the Medici and the supporters of the anti-Medicean outlaws, reminiscent of the inveterate one between Guelphs and Ghibellines. It is no coincidence that the German guards were replaced by Swiss guards-always foreign, then-at the time of dynastic transit between the Medici and the Hapsburg-Lorraine, and still the spread of the Piedmontese Carabinieri throughout the united Kingdom of Italy follows the principle of relying on a defense elite whose origin is geographically differentiated from the service territory.”

For all information you can visit the Uffizi Galleries website.

Pictured: a room in the exhibition.

Uffizi, tribute to Cosimo I begins with exhibition on the prince's hundred lanzi
Uffizi, tribute to Cosimo I begins with exhibition on the prince's hundred lanzi

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