By Jean Marie Carey

Claudia de’ Medici was born 4 June 1604 in Florence. Though she is not well-known today nor from the earlier, and more notorious, era of the legendary Florentine dynasty, Claudia was not only famous during her lifetime, but popular and well-respected. The daughter of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, art collector, and founder of the Villa Medici in Rome, Claudia was also a patron of and participant in the arts. In addition to painting from the time she was a child, she also played the harp and the lute.

At the age of 28, Claudia de’ Medici became the Tyrolian Landesfürstin, reigning independently for 14 years from a small palace in Innsbruck (now in austria), during which she learned the Tyrolian dialect, reformed the militia, had fortifications built up around the city and formed alliances with Emperor Ferdinand II of Spain. Tyrol was thus spared from the worst of the long 30 Years War.

Claudia commissioned numerous sacred works of art, among them a portrait of the martyr Christina of Bolsena: the ruler herself as a saint, with exposed shoulder and half-revealed breast, perhaps in imitation of Lucas Cranach’s Maria lactans (Nursing Mother of God), for which the pious Archduchess had donated an altar. The charismatic Landesfürstin also had a distinctive sartorial style, later to inspire the Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, often donning a traditional Archduke’s hat. She died on Christmas day in 1648.

Reference: Arno Strohmeyer. “Claudia de’ Medici. Eine italienische Prinzessin als Landesfürstin von Tirol.” Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 1 January 2006, Vol. 33(4), pp.692-693.

Justus Suttermans. Portrait of Claudia de’ Medici, Archduchess of Tyrol, c. 1626. Galleria Palatina, Florence.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Dress for Millicent Rogers inspired by Claudia de’ Medici, 1939. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Brooklyn Museum Costumes.

Ewer, Manufactured by the Medici in Florence, c. 1590. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nr. 5191.

Barthélemy Prieur. Marie de’ Medici, cousin of Claudia, c. 1609. Musée du Louvre, Nr. 30-01-03/40.

Sofonisba Anguissola. Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of Catherine de’ Medici, grandmother of Claudia, c. 1565. Museo del Prado, Nr. 40-08-05/ 8.

Further Reading: Sheila Barker. Women Artists in Early Modern Italy: Careers, Fame, and Collectors. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2016.

Kenneth Gouwens and Sheryl E. Reiss. The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. 

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