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The myth, the sacred, the portrait

Paintings from the repositories of the Palatine Gallery

04-17-2012 | 12-22-2012 - extended until 10-13-2013

The Sala delle Nicchie in the Palatine Gallery hosts the exhibition The Myth, the Sacred, the Portrait, paintings from the repositories of the Palatine Gallery. It is a short anthology designed to enable the public to approach knowledge of an inexhaustible and always surprising artistic heritage, the result of the lengthy collecting of the Medici and the indissoluble link that the reigning family wished to set up with Florence when it bequeathed its treasures to the city permanently “as ornament of the State, for Public utility and to attract the curiosity of Foreigners”.

The nineteen paintings gathered here tell the stories of the places they come from, the palazzi and the grand-ducal villas, of the commissioners that ordered them from the most fashionable painters of the the time, or who purchased them on the antiques market urged by the desire to enhance their  collections.

The exhibition route is divided into four sections that illustrate the subjects that were most common and pleasing to the tastes of the collectors, within a timespan comprised between the 1560s and the first half of the seventeenth century. 

The fulcrum of the exhibition is the monumental painting of Hercules and the Hydra of Lerna, executed by Guido Reni around 1638-40 and originating from the collection of Cardinal Giovan Carlo in the Casino Mediceo of Via della Scala. Hercules, the symbol of strength and the emblematic Medici hero, is also the mentor who accompanies the prince on the spiritual journey amidst the celestial spheres in the five Rooms of the Planets frescoed by Pietro da Cortona, which come immediately after this room. The two canvases portraying Tarquin and Lucretia, executed by Simone Pignoni are related to the myth as exemplum virtutis, and allude to female chastity and strength.

The section devoted to Sacred Stories comprises subjects from the Old and New Testaments addressed by both Flemish artists such as Frans Floris, (active in Italy from around 1540) and Italian painters including Artemisia Gentileschi and the Veronese Jacopo Ligozzi, an artist much-loved by both Francesco I and his brother and successor Ferdinando I.

Then comes a short tribute to Don Lorenzo de’ Medici, the son of Ferdinando I and Christine of Lorraine, a sophisticated art lover and an attentive patron to some of the greatest geniuses of his time, including Volterrano, Dandini, Stefano della Bella and Michele Desubleo. Outstanding among the many works commissioned for the picture gallery arranged in his favourite residence, the Villa della Petraia, were the large canvas showing Orlando in the Brigands’ Cave, illustrating the taste for subjects taken from Orlando Furioso and the Gerusalemme Liberata, as well as a series of ovals showing Hylas, Zephyr, the Youth in a Blue Doublet and the Allegory of Comedy, complete with their original frames, destined to one of the small rooms on the ground floor.

The Portrait, as an expression of family and political ties, as a gift, or as a symbol of the moral virtues of the person portrayed, is the subject that closes the exhibition. The five paintings displayed here portray Gaston of Orleans, Henrietta Maria and Elisabeth, the younger children of Maria de’ Medici and Henry IV of France, together with Cosimo III de’ Medici and Margherita de’ Medici as Saint Margaret. They were executed by two of the greatest specialists in the genre, Frans Pourbus the Younger and Justus Suttermans, and reflect various moments in the history of the grand-ducal family and the role and importance that it assumed on the stage of European politics.

Curated by

Anna Bisceglia and Alessandro Cecchi




Cristina Gabbrielli

Ticket prices

The exhibition is included in the entrance ticket for the Palatine Gallery.

There is no change in the cost of the ticket.


Guided tours every day (except Sundays) at 11.30 and 16.30.

Booking is not required. Visitors should gather at the entrance to the Sala delle Nicchie.