Monday, June 30, 2014


Photo courtesy of
As a confirmed Francophile, someone who spent a great part of her life immersed in the works of Alexandre Dumas, and then spent a year and a half researching and writing a novel about the Musketeers (The Courtier’s Secret), I applaud BBC America’s latest portrayal of these famed soldiers, The Muskeeters. As the opening credits announce, the show is based ‘on the CHARACTERS’ of Dumas. Such a statement gives them the license to play a bit loosely with the history of the age, which the writers do, but nowhere near to the degree that some of the other period series of late (The Borgias, Da Vinci’s Demons) have done. What they have captured perfectly—through the writing, the casting, and the direction--is the marvelous essence that is The Musketeers. It is replete with breathlessly handsome dashing men, subtle yet sarcastic wit intrinsic to Dumas’ characters, and well-written episodes bursting with the action and adventure that originally defined these tales and why we cherish them as classic stories.

D'artagnan as portrayed by
Luke Pasqualino
For the first time D’artagnan, portrayed by Luke Pasqualino, has been
Charles de Batz
de Castelmore d'Artagnan
The real man Dumas'
based his character upon
cast with the coloring appropriate to his Gascon heritage (dark hair, dark eyes). Pasqualino possesses the youthful innocent charm so distinctive to the character. Athos played by Tom Burke is sufficiently gloomy and a forthright leader in equal parts, Howard Charles gives Porthos the perfect amount of snarkiness and forever honorable and to-the-death warrior that he was, and drenched in besotting masculine sensuality, Santiago Cabrera plays Aramis as he should be (women want him, men want to be him).

Santiago Cabrera as Aremis
Constance as portrayed by
Tamla Kari

In Constance, both the writing and the casting have taken a slightly different turn; Tamla Kari is not an exquisite beauty (though she is quite lovely) that we’ve come to know (i.e. Rachel Welch), nor is she the damsel in distress as she has been forever portrayed. And yet there is something wonderfully compelling in this version of the most important female in these tales. The other significant female role, that of Milady de Winter, has not yet coalesced (by the second episode) enough and she appears—thus far—a bit gratuitous. Maimie McCoy’s rendition of this character, and what the writers choose to do with her, will need watching.

By far one of the best inclusions is the stronger and more involved character of Captain Treville, played by Hugo Speer. Though his role in the Dumas’ original tales is small, his influence—most especially upon the young D’Artagnan—is vital to the Musketeers, to their code of honor. Hopefully this character will find more attention in this BBC America version.

But, as with the books, the true captivating core of these stories is the bond between these four men and the playful, lascivious, and always—always—devoted, determined, and honorable lives they lead. We are swept away by their chivalry, their prowess, and their beauty. As with any historical FICTION allowances have to be made in terms of story in order for a great fictional story to be told. In the case of BBC America’s The Musketeers, it is a very, very small price to pay for delightful entertainment.

All for one, and one for all!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


If one were to give a cursory look at the Medici family history, it would appear as if the generation of Cosimo the Elder was immediately followed by that of Lorenzo, il Magnifico. But in fact a generation existed between them. One, unfortunately, easily forgotten.

As the family tree demonstrates, Cosimo had one brother surviving through to maturity. Lorenzo de Medici (who would later come to be known as Lorenzo the Elder), was a valued member of the Medici family, as well as the Florentine community. It is said of him that he is the father of the dei popolani (of the common people) branch of the Medici family, perhaps not the greatest of distinctions. However, his devotion to his more distinguished brother could never be questioned. Educated by Carlo Marsuppini, a humanist and chancellor of the Florentine Republic, Lorenzo the Elder followed his brother on all of Cosimo's travels, both those before and during Cosimo's expulsion. From Verona to Ferrara to Vincenza, Lorenzo remained close to his brother's side. During Cosimo's banishment, Lorenzo attempted to form an army to fight for Cosimo's freedom. Unsuccessful, Lorenzo joined Cosimo in Venice, where they spent the majority of the ousted years.

Upon the return of the Medici to power in Florence, Lorenzo the Elder worked tirelessly in the family's
Pierfrancesco in Filippino Lippi's
Adoration of the Magi
banking efforts. He married Ginevra Cavalcanti, the Cavalcantis a powerful and noble Florentine family in their own right, and together they gave birth to two children. The eldest, Francesco, died in childhood. While his brother Pierfrancesco would go on to gain a much more important place in the Medici clan.

"Orphaned" (in this era of Italian history, the death of the father would constitute being orphaned) at the age of seven, Pierfrancesco was raised by his influential and intellectual uncle Cosimo. He would go on to serve the Republic, and henceforth his uncle, as an astute and talented ambassador, first to the pope (1458) and then to Mantua (1463). In 1459 he served as Priore delle Arti.

The single misstep in this man's career came in 1466 when he became part of Lucca Pitti's attempted coup of his cousin Piero (Cosimo's son). Forgiven for his transgression, Pierfrancesco would live out his years serving the family banking establishments dilligently, bringing help to his younger cousin Lorenzo the Maginificent at a momentous point in history. Upon Pierfrancesco's death in 1476, the same cousin Lorenzo would adopt and raise Pierfrancesco's two children.

As for Cosimo, he gave birth to a total of three children. His illegitimate son Carlo was discussed in a previous post. With his wife, Contessina de Bardi, Cosimo conceived two sons, neither of whom would greatly distinguish themselves.

Giovanni di Cosimo de Medici
by Francesco Salviati
The least known of the two is Giovanni di Cosimo de Medici. Though born as the second son, Cosimo groomed Giovanni to be his successor; not only did he enjoy better health than his elder brother he shiwed a greater proclivity for education, especially in the music and the humanities. Beginning in 1438, he served as the director of the Ferrara branch of the family bank and in 1454, Giovanni became a Prior of Florence, serving as a member of the delegation welcoming Pope Pius II to the city. In the same year he married Ginevra degli Alessandri and the two produced one child, a son who failed to live past his eighth birthday. As if the loss was more than he could manage, Giovanni soon followed his son, passing away in 1463.

Villa Medici a Fiesole

Nonetheless, Giovanni left a lasting legacy. As a renowned patron of the arts, he sponsored such great talents as Mino da Fiesole (whom he had build the Villa Medici a Fiesole), Desiderio da Settignano, Donatello, Domenico Veneziano, Pesellino, and most importantly Filippo Lippi.

The hopes of the Medici family fell upon the surviving, legitimate child, Piero, known also as Piero the Gouty. As his nickname implies, he was not his father's first choice of successor due to his poor health, but on the passing of his brother, he had no choice but to step up to the helm. Piero became the last Medici to be elected as Gonfalonier of Justice in 1461. And though he did not possess either the wisdom or the virtue of his father, he came to power upon Cosimo's death in 1464, a death brought on by the same gout Piero suffered. To his credit and his detriment, Piero was known as a good-natured man, inclined to be merciful, mild, and lenient, wonderful qualities in a human, easily manipulated qualities in a politician. It has been said that Piero almost allowed himself to be governed, some men usurping so much authority they nearly stripped him of his power completely.

Basicilica Sant'Ambrogio
Many of the city's more aggressive, influential men--men such as Dietisalvi di Nerone and Agnolo Acciaiuoli--planned to depose Piero. The scheme began with the manipulations of elections, but through the large Medici following and friendships, Piero was able to block their plan. Yet things only grew worse for the passive Piero. Blocking a loan requested by Milan though many in the government approved of it, brought more and more antagonism against him. When Piero went off to Careggi, one of the Medici's country villas, his enemies decided to murder him during his return journey. Troops provided by Borso d'Este hid in Sant'Ambrogio del Vescovo, a church Piero typically--and as was commonly known--passed on his way home. Warned by Giovanni II Bentivoglio, Piero took an alternate route and was able to escape the coup. Futher frustrating the assassin, his son Lorenzo discovered a road-block set up by the conspirators to capture Piero in his trip towards the Medici villa at Careggi; he was not recognized, and was able to warn his father. That coup failed as did one weakly launched by the Venetians. Though the threats were multiple and malicious, Piero continued his clement ways, punishing only those whom it was too dangerous not to.

Piero di Cosimo de Medici scuffled with the Venetians and the Vatican in his lifetime, especially with the advent of Pope Paul's papacy. He was able to send diplomats in search for the answers to such antagonism, but he died before peace--and peace there was--was made.

Passing in 1469, serving only five years as the defacto ruler of Florence, this impotent if incurably kind man was grieved over by the entire city. With his intellectual, erudite, and prolific wife, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Piero left two sons...two sons whose fate would be inextricable entwined with the city of their birth, each changed forever by each other.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


No discussion of Cosimo de' Medici, the Elder, would be complete without an homage to his commitment and worship of magnificent architecture. Francesco Guicciardini wrote of Cosimo in his The History of Florence, "His generosity, especially over the construction of buildings, was not that of a citizen but of a king."

The tour begins at the Palazzo de Medici itself. It has been said that the phases of the palace, mirror those of the great city in which it resides, marking out the important stages of its development. As the financial holdings of the family grew, Cosimo's ancestors purchased and moved the family to a quieter part of the city, to the broad and serene Via Larga (now known as the Via Cavour). The residential road, only recently constructed, flanked the eastern border of the largest of the sixteen districts of the city, the gonfalone del Leon d'Oro. In the beginning, the family occupied a series of adjacent houses, small structures Cosimo felt could be vastly improved upon.

Though a major sponsor of Brunelleschi, Cosimo chose Michelozzo di Bartolomeo as the artchitect when construction began in 1445, rejecting Brenelleschi's design as 'too lavish and magnificent,' fearing the envy of the citizens Cosimo served. Taking ten years to complete, the palazzo--as it stood then--was an example of the newest of construction. Purely cube in shape, it combined the traditional material (pietra forte: fine-grained sandstone and rustication) with the new concepts of the Rensaissance, where each story was visibly defined and a big cornice was topping off the roof border. The hard Doric columns and the arcades of the courtyard, with its respective asymmetrical entrances, situated at the corner of the ground floor were built from the prototype of palace’s courtyard created by Michelozzo's illustrious teacher, Filippo Brunelleschi, in the 15th century. Since then, and for more than a century, the palaces of the highest Florentine families were, for the most part, designed in the Palazzo Medici style.  The result was a projection of austerity and grandeur in harmonious coexistence.

Of great importance to the prominent families of Renaissance Florence were their family chapels. Though San Lorenzo began as a project of the city, with claims of being one of the oldest cathedrals in the city, its humble origins, built in 393, sat outside of the then less encompassing city walls and was considered the city's cathedral. When rebuilding, begun in 1419, came to a halt due to financial problems, Cosimo took over. Brunelleschi's design, with grey pietra serena columns, gives a cool, airy quality to the interior. The bronze pulpits (circa 1460) are Donatello's last work and depict the Resurrection and scenes from the life of Christ; from these pulpits, Savonarola used to preach his hellfire-and-brimstone sermons. A fresco by Bronzino depicting the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (1569) is a Mannerist study of the human body. Inside Brunelleschi's geometrically precise Old Sacristy, there are eight tondi (circular reliefs) by Donatello depicting the Evangelists and scenes from the life of St. John.

Despite its history, the building is seen as one of the great examples of the new style. Its more notable features include: the attempt to create a proportional relationship between nave and aisle (aisle bays are square whereas nave bays are 2X1);  the articulation of the structure in pietra serena (Italian: “dark stone”); the use of an integrated system of column, arches, entablatures; a clear relationship between column and pilaster, the latter meant to be read as a type of embedded pier; the use of proper proportions for the height of the columns; the use of spherical segments in the vaults of the side aisles.

There are significant problems in the design, most, however, occur at the level of detail. Giorgio Vasari thought that the columns along the nave should have been elevated on plinths. That the pilasters along the wall of the side aisles rest on a floor that is three steps higher than the nave, is also considered an error.

San Lorenzo is the burial place of the Medici, in what are called the Medici Chapels which you enter into through the back of the church, and are considered by some as the grandest portion of the Basilica. Giovanni di Bicci de Medici was the first to be entombed there and the family was still paying for its latest renovation when the last member of the family, Anna Maria Luisa de Medici, died in 1743.

This former Benedictine convent, the Badia at Fiesole, which was partially rebuilt by Cosimo the Elder, a regular resident here, accommodates a Romanesque church. Its initial façade with its geometric designs in green and white marble was incorporated into a later façade which was never completed. The cloisters are representative of the style inaugurated by Brunelleschi. The first cathedral of Fiesole was situated lower down the hill than the present one, and had been built, according to the tradition, over the site of the martyrdom of Saint Romulus of Fiesole. In 1028 the present cathedral was founded by Bishop Jacopo the Bavarian to replace it, as he wished it to be inside the city walls.

Though these are but three of Cosimo's architectural contributions, there were still more, in fact he built outside his own country, even in Jerusalem; and his buildings were not only sumptuous and expensive, but constructed with supreme intelligence. It could be said that Cosimo de' Medici not only financed the Renaissance, he helped to build it.