Friday, January 3, 2014

Ferdinando’s Wedding

Orazio Scarabelli (1592)
1589 Naval Battle In The Courtyard Of The Palazzo Pitti.
In 1589, when Antonio Neri was a thirteen-year-old boy, he experienced a rare event, the wedding of a sitting grand duke. Newly crowned, Ferdinando I de' Medici, was married to French princess (and distant Medici relative) Christina of Lorraine. In a deliberate show of political and family strength, the entire city of Florence was turned into the venue for a celebration of unprecedented magnitude. No expense was spared; the city and its people were swept into an extended state of pageantry extending from late March to early May. Among the celebratory events were concerts, competitions, recitals, exhibitions and fireworks. Grand spectacles such as indoor mock naval battles (naumachia) thrilled guests. Manned scale ships sailed in the flooded Pitti Palace courtyard, covered by an enormous tent. Guests were invited to attend from royal courts throughout Europe. The grand wedding events served notice of Ferdinando’s arrival on the political scene.   

As superintendent of the workmen at the Uffizi, artist Jacopo Ligozzi probably oversaw the production of glassware for the wedding banquets. The furnace had been built twenty years earlier in 1569 by Muranese master Bartolo d'Alvise. By special arrangement with the Venetian authorities, Bartolo and two assistants were granted permission to relocate from Murano to show Florentine craftsmen the secrets of making "cristallo," the coveted glassware for which Venice had become famous. Bartolo was awarded the exclusive right to produce and sell Venetian style glassware (façon de Venise) in Tuscany. He stayed until about 1583, leaving the city when Antonio Neri was around seven years old. Presumably, at the time of the wedding, the furnace was being run by the Florentines, perhaps with some continued assistance by the Venetians (officially or not).

Right around the time of the wedding festivities, Antonio Neri's father was given a great honor; Neri Neri, as he was called, was appointed to the position of physician to the grand duke and his entire family. It is hard to understate the importance of becoming such a trusted member of the royal court's inner circle. The appointment must have been the cause of great celebration within Antonio's family. It was the crowning achievement of an already successful medical career. Almost a decade earlier, in 1580, Neri Neri had been granted citizenship along with his own father, barber surgeon Jacopo Neri. In Tuscany, citizen status was an honor conferred to a small fraction of the population and often through inheritance at around the age of thirty. The fact that Neri Neri gained citizenship at the age of forty and did so together with his father shows it was not a legacy, but perhaps their medical prowess that lead to the award. Citizen status bestowed the advantage of direct representation in the government and the right to hold public office. It also carried responsibilities to the city, to its leaders and to the Church. 

While 1589 started with great excitement and celebration for the city and for the Neri family, it ended on a more somber note, with the unwelcome intervention of Mother Nature. In the fall of that year, the Arno River overflowed its banks, and flooded much of the city, including Borgo Pinti, the street on which the family lived. Florentines were conditioned by long experience to keep living quarters and valuables above the ground floor; it not only protected against flood damage, but earlier in the cities history, against attack and looting in times of war. Nevertheless, the flood of 1589 was a bad one. Although specific details are not available, it is known that nearby Santa Croce church was devastated. This flood is listed among the most extreme in the city's history, along with the flood of 1966, when waters inside the Neri palazzo reached two meters (over six feet).

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