Finally, there we are.
Season 1 – Episode 1 and 2 of the Medici Masters of Florence TV series has been aired by RAI 1, the Italian national TV. They will show 2 episodes each Tuesday, actually, so my guide will group two episodes each time.
Season 1 Episode 1 and 2 plot
Giovanni de’ Medici (Dustin Hoffman) dies after eating poisoned grapes. The latest thing he sees is a man walking in the vineyard, whose face is well hidden by a hood. But don’t worry: the Academy Award winner will still be one of the protagonists of the episode, because the plot dances between what happens after his death and the facts that happened 20 years before.
20 years before
Florence, 1429: Giovanni de’ Medici is setting the stage for the rise of the Medici family. Giovanni is a man whose life has been dedicated to his family, and he has a dream, for both his family and his city. A city that built such a huge Cathedral (The Duomo) that cannot be completed.
Pope Gregory XII just died, and Giovanni decides to go all-in sponsoring his friend Baldassarre Cossa (a Cardinal) to be elected Pope. In exchange, the Medici Bank will obtain the right to collect all the tributes due to the Catholic church, becoming the most important bank in Europe.
Giovanni de’ Medici has to convince his son Cosimo (Richard Madden), willing to become an artist, that his destiny is different: he will have to continue the work started by his father. Cosimo is not happy about the reputation that comes with the banking activity, and the fact people refer to them as usurers; but his father Giovanni tells him that “usurers make money by chanrging interest to the desperate… our profit comes from the trade and credit… we give opportunity to who otherwise wouldn’t have any”.
Of course, to obtain something good, sometimes you have to do something bad (Machiavelli?): and there you go, Lorenzo (Cosimo’s brother, Stuart Martin) starts to corrupt the Cardinals, while Cosimo finds the time to meet a Florentine artist, the sculptor Donatello, and get in love with Bianca, a humble woman. It will be Cosimo, by the way, to decide the election of the Pope, after discovering that the Cardinal Orsini, unfavorable to the Medici’s friend, has a homosexual relationship.
Giovanni, after knowing that his son Cosimo is wasting time with a washerwoman, pays her to go away, and organizes the marriage of Cosimo with a Florentine noblewoman, Contessina de’ Bardi, not missing the opportunity to make a profit with the woman’s father.
Cosimo de’ Medici, now the head of his family and the most important banker in Europe, wins the draw to become the new ruler of the “Signoria” (the leader of the city), but his opponent Rinaldo degli Albizi (Lex Shrapnel) takes advantage of the imminent war with Milan. Here starts the political war between Medici and Albizi, which represents, symbolically, a war between the new rising families of merchants and bankers, who want peace to make business and trade with all of Europe, and the traditional aristocracy, who want war to defend their real estate revenues, not caring if the city will suffer.
In the meantime, Cosimo’s handyman Marco Bello is investigating on the death of Giovanni. Marco Bello reveals to be a violent man, and although Cosimo asks him not to use violence, he kills the doctor who performed Giovanni’s autopsy, after he tried to blackmail Cosimo. The pharmacist who supposedly sold the poison to the killer is also found dead.
With war putting the Medici’s business in serious jeopardy, Cosimo starts to think about a desperate move: use the tributes his bank collected on behalf of the Vatican to pay for the completion of the Duomo: this way, he says, he will create job opportunities, reviving the stagnating economy of the city oppressed by the taxes necessary for the war (and also making his popularity grow exponentially).
The historical reconstruction is more than acceptable, meaning that the events that happened after the death of Giovanni and 20 years before are pretty much what the episode is showing.
I understand willing to give credit to the Medici for their interest in the Renaissance, but the dome (built between 1421 and 1436), at the time of the death of Giovanni de’ Medici (1429), was almost finished. Definitely, it was not an idea of Cosimo with the intention to boost the economy of Florence. The Medici (Giovanni, not Cosimo) were involved in the discussions for sure, and it’s safe to think they made a large donation, like many other Florentine rich families. That said, they are NOT responsible for the construction of the dome that completed the Cathedral. Funds were raised with a tax on each transaction that happened in Florence (a sort of VAT), and funds were managed by the Wool Manufacturer’s Guild on behalf of the Opera del Duomo (the institution responsible for the construction).
The fact they used funds they had collected on behalf of the Vatican, is a total fake. The Medici knew very well the importance of reputation for a banker, and they would never have promoted such a reckless financial operation.
Giovanni de’ Medici, even before the dome was started, had employed Filippo Brunelleschi for the Old Sacristy in the Basilica of San Lorenzo (which is also the burial place of Giovanni), so probably he promoted the genius architect in obtaining the job for the dome.
Cosimo de’ Medici deserves credit for investing a lot of his own profits (not funds he owed to someone else) in arts. In particular, he is directly responsible for:
- the construction of the Medici Palace (Michelozzo)
- the construction of the St Mark’s convent (Michelozzo, with decorations by Fra Angelico)
- the reconstruction of the San Lorenzo Basilica (Brunelleschi)
- countless works of art, most notably the Bronze statues of David by Verrocchio and Donatello
I understand that Brunelleschi’s Dome is more appealing, but giving Cosimo full credit for the greatest achievement of that century is a lie.
There are some smaller mistakes, like showing renaissance works (often belonging to the 1500s and 1600s) at this stage. The Renaissance is one of the things the Medici deserve credit for: I wouldn’t have showed a mannerist fresco in the Medici Palace, or a Florentine mosaic floor in the hall of the council. Else, what did they promote exactly? I mean, if beautiful works of art were available already, what was their contribute?
Good to see that Cosimo meets Donatello, the sculptor. He will be, arguably, the favorite artist of Cosimo and also a good friend. By the way, Donatello was in Rome as a pupil of Filippo Brunelleschi, the man who later will actually build the famous dome completing the Duomo. Brunelleschi was famous already at the time, and I doubt Cosimo didn’t know him. He appears in the “present” when discussions start regarding the construction of the dome.
This episode seemed to be a bit slow to me, compared, for example, to the Borgia series (I’m speaking of the European series, not the American one with Jeremy Irons that I have not seen.
If you want to leave your comments, I will be more than happy to answer!