Palazzo Vecchio was known throughout the world for being the seat of political power in Florence for about seven centuries.
It used to be the symbol of the Republic of Florence and later of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and it still is the town hall.
The rooms of the palace are rich in history, beautifully decorated, and full of artistic masterpieces.
But there is another side of the story of the Palazzo Vecchio that is less well known…
In fact, for many years, Palazzo Vecchio was also the private residence of the princes of Florence, the Medici Family.
The building has many private areas: the most famous of which are the Apartments of Eleonor and the Apartments of the Elements.
But the most odd and extravagant private room is definitely the Studiolo of Francesco I.
It is a small, secret room, connected with the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), in which the prince Francesco I de’ Medici loved to surround himself with things he was passionate about.
The Studiolo was built in 1570 to ensure that Francesco I had ultimate privacy, while he devoted himself to alchemical experiments and collecting rare and curious items, according to the fashion of the time.
Francesco I was more interested by far in scientific knowledge and nature than in court issues and politics. In his Studiolo, he found the perfect place!
The room was narrow and devoid of windows: so the prince was forced to run his beloved “chemistry experiments” in the laboratory of Casino di San Marco.
The Studiolo was part of the private apartment of Francesco I and accessible only from the bedroom, which was located on the opposite side with respect to the current door overlooking the Salone dei Cinquecento, which opened in the nineteenth century.
The small room is decorated entirely with paintings and frescoes, all of them depicting elements of alchemy.
The four walls are covered with fitted cupboards, whose doors are decorated with paintings.
Each side of the Studiolo was dedicated to one of the four elements of nature.
In the cupboards of each side, Francesco I used to keep all the objects belonging to that category, such as stones and carved bones for the Earth, glass and forged metals for Fire, crystals for Air, and pearls for Water.
The iconography of the cupboards coincides with the fresco decoration of the vault, which depicts a cosmology.
At the center is Nature Presenting Prometheus with Spectacular Gems. All around are the allegories of the four elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire), flanked by the four element qualities (Cold, Wet, Hot, Dry), the four temperaments of man (Melancholic, Phlegmatic, Sanguine, Choleric), and the four seasons (in the lunettes, alongside the portraits of Cosimo I and Eleonor of Toledo).
The Studiolo is a masterpiece of late Florentine Mannerism and features works by some of the most celebrated painters and sculptors of the era, such as Giorgio Vasari, Alessandro Allori, Giovanni Stradano, Bartolomeo Ammannati, and Giambologna.
We can bet, however, that among the paintings of the Studiolo, Francesco I loved most the one showing him working in a foundry, between fire and metals, as a true alchemist!
This so charming place could not miss in Dan Brown’s Inferno.