Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last descendant of the Medici dynasty died on February 18, 1743. Her family of bankers had ruled Firenze on and off for over 300 years, and amassed countless art treasures. Fortunately for us, Anna Maria Luisa was a woman ahead of her time. Knowing her family was on the verge of extinction, she made sure her family’s legacy was protected.
The middle child of Cosimo III de’ Medici and Marguerite d’Orleans, she was born in 1667 and had 2 brothers, Ferdinando and Gian Gastone. Anna Maria Luisa’s parents could not stand each other. Her mother returned to France when Anna Maria Luisa was 8 years old and never returned.
In 1691, at the age of 24, Anna Maria Luisa was married by proxy to the widowed Elector Palatine, a prince of Bavaria. Her marriage, although arranged, was happy and she lived a comfortable life as ‘Electress Palatine’ in Dusseldorf, where she was a patroness of the arts. Anna Maria Luisa and her husband did not have any children. It was thought until recently that he had given her syphilis.
Ferdinando and Gian Gastone were both in disastrous marriages and neither lived with his wife. Cosimo was worried about them both being without an heir. He even had his Cardinal brother released from religious life to marry, but 2 years later, he died without children. When Ferdinando died in 1713, Cosimo changed Tuscan law to allow a female heir, passing Medici rule to Anna Maria Luisa after Gian Gastone. He lobbied the European leaders, but they refused to accept this.
When Anna Maria Luisa’s husband died in 1716, she returned to Firenze, moving into a wing of the Palazzo Pitti. Cosimo III died in 1723, leaving Gian Gastone to be a terrible Grand Duke of Tuscany until his death in 1737. Despite the fact that Cosimo wanted the House of Este from Modena take over, it was decided the debt-ridden Lorraine (Lorena) family of the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty would take over the government of Tuscany. Anna Maria Luisa had no say in the decision.
On Gian Gastone’s death, Anna Maria Luisa inherited all of the Medici personal property. Knowing the Medici line ended with her, she was determined that her family’s possessions would not be sold off piece by piece to pay off Austrian war debts. Anna Maria Luisa had to find a solution quickly, before the vultures swooped in!
On October 31, 1737, she signed a legal contract, the Patto di Famiglia (Family Pact) leaving all of the personal property of the Medici, including the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and Medici Villas to the city upon her death. It stipulated that none of the collection could be sold or removed from Firenze. More specifically, it stated that the Medici collections:
‘esse rimanessero per ornamento dello Stato, per utilità del Pubblico e per attirare la curiosità dei Forestieri’ / were to be left as ornaments of the State, for use of the public and to attract the curiosity of foreigners.
If she only knew! She was unknowingly providing for her city’s future economy.
Anna Maria Luisa spent the rest of her life doing charitable work, cataloguing the inventory of her family collection and overseeing the building of the Cappella dei Principi in San Lorenzo where she was later buried. The Patto di Famiglia became active on her death February 18, 1743. In 2012 her bones were exhumed due to concerns of damage from the 1966 flood. (Note…I am not sure why this took 46 years??). She died of a breast tumour and there was no evidence of syphilis.
Originally designed by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo I in 1560, the Uffizi, former administrative offices (uffici means offices) of the Medici and the Archivo dello Stato was opened to the public 16 years after Anna Maria Luisa’s death. The Uffizi Gallery now has 16 million visitors every year.
In Firenze Anna Maria Luisa is known as ‘La Principessa Saggia’, the wise Princess. She is also known and recognized for her big hair. The city of Firenze honours her each year on Oct 31st to celebrate the Patto di Famiglia with free admission to the Uffizi and on February 18th the anniversary of her death with free admission to civic museums. There is often an actress playing her at the Palazzo Pitti. The art loving world is forever indebted to Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici.
Portrait of Elettrice Palatina Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici by Jan Van Douven, Dusseldorf, Wikimedia
Photos of actress playing Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici at Palazzo Pitti from Filistrucchi, the manufacturers of the big-ass parrucca (wig) she is wearing!
Photo of actress playing Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici signing the Patto di Famiglia ilreporter website
Sculpture of Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici by Ivo Barbaresi 1945. Donated to Palazzo Pitti by Fiorenza Bartolozzi 2011.