Built in the mid fifteenth century by Michelozzo on commission from the Medici, the Palazzo Medici became the prototype of Renaissance civil architecture. The robust and austere pile of the mansion, originally designed as a sort of cube, was for at least a century the most direct and efficacious symbol of the political and cultural primacy of the Medici in Florence.
The Palazzo Medici, also called the Palazzo Medici Riccardi for the later family that acquired and expanded it, is a Renaissance palace located in Florence, Italy.
The palace was designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de' Medici, of the Medici family, and was built between 1445 and 1460. It was well known for its stone masonry that includes rustication and ashlar. The tripartite elevation was used here as a revelation of the Renaissance spirit of rationality, order, and classicism of human scale. This tripartite division is emphasized horizontal stringcourses that divide the building into stories of decreasing height. This makes the building seem lighter as the eye moves up to the extremely heavy cornice that caps and clearly defines the building's outline.
Michelozzo di Bartolomeo was influenced in his building of this palace by both Roman principles and Brunelleschian principles. During the Renaissance revival of classical culture, Roman elements were often replicated in architecture, both built and imagined in paintings. In the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the rusticated masonry and the cornice had precedents in Roman art.
Similarly, the great Renaissance architect Brunelleschi used Roman techniques and influenced Michelozzo. The open colonnaded court that is the center of the Palazzo plan has roots in the cloisters that developed from Roman peristyles. The once open corner loggia and shop fronts were walled in during the 16th century. In their place, many believe Michelangelo placed ground-floor "kneeling windows" (finestre inginocchiati) supported on innovative scrolling consoles and framed in pedimented aedicules that recall the the similarly treated main doorway.
The Palazzo Medici Riccardi was one of the numerous palazzi built during the period of Florentine prosperity. The building reflects the accumulated wealth of the Medici family, yet it is somewhat reserved. The fifteen-year-old Galeazzo Maria Sforza was entertained in Florence in 17 April 1459, and left a letter describing, perhaps in the accomplished terms of a secretary, the all-but-complete palazzo, where his whole entourage was nobly accommodated:
...a house that is— as much in the handsomeness of the ceilings, the height of the walls, smooth finish of the entrances and windows, number of chambers and salons, elegances of the studies, worth of the books, neatness and gracefulness of the gardens, as it is in the tapestry decorations, cassoni of inestimable workmanship and value, noble sculptures, designs of infinite kinds, as well of priceless silver— the best I may ever have seen..."
Niccolò de' Carissimi, one of Galeazzo Maria's counsellors, furnished further details of the rooms and garden:
"decorated on every side with gold and fine marbles, with carvings and sculptures in relief, with pictures and inlays done in perspective by the most accomplished and perfect of masters even in the very benches and floors of the house; tapestries and household ornaments of gold and silk;silverware and bookcases that are endless... then a garden donein the finest of polished marbles, with diverse plants, which seems a thing not natural but painted."
Cosimo received the young Sforza in the chapel "not less ornate and handsome than the rest of the house." The palazzo still includes, as its only quattrocento interior that is largely intact, the notable Magi Chapel, frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli, who completed it in 1461 with a wealth of anecdotal detail of character types so convincing they were traditionally held to be portraits of members of the Medici family, along with the emperors John VIII Palaiologos and the Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, parading through Tuscany in the guise of the Three Wise Men.
The Medici were thrown out of Florence because the Florentines prided themselves on their republic and saw the Medici family as a threat to that power. When the Medici family returned to Florence, they kept a low profile and executed their power behind the scenes. This "low profile" is reflected in the plain exterior of this building, and is said to be the reason why Cosimo de' Medici rejected Brunelleschi's earlier proposal.
 From the start, the new "Renaissance" style in Italian painting had artists and patrons who favored scenes crowded with descriptive detail. Since this was already an important part of late medieval naturalism as seen in Lorenzetti and in Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi , one might speak of an unbroken taste for descriptive detail from the late Gothic right through the fifteenth century. Early fifteenth-century practitioners included Fra Filippo Lippi, Ucchello, and, at times, Fra Angelico.
Between 1450 and 1500, the level of descriptive detail increased significantly in Italian art. Yet each artist worked to "control" description and organize it expressively within a personal style. The Florentine painter, Benozzo Gozzoli (d. 1497) took well-described, three-dimensional spaces to a new level of visual familiarity while maintaining a patrician sense of ornate decoration and pageantry with roots in late Gothic courtly aesthetics. The best example is his religious frescoes in the private chapel of the Medici Palace from 1459-1470. Challenged by Flemish oil painting, he developed new degrees of description and particularity of light while subordinating "observation" to a severe yet expressive geometrical-perspectival order, a Masacciesque monumentality of form, and a poetic handling of light and color.
The impact of fifteenth-century Flemish art on Italian painting increased significantly in 1476 with the installation of Hugo van der Goes's Nativity. This Dutch painting was commissioned by the head of the Medici bank in Bruges, Tomasso Portinari, and installed in his private chapel in Florence. With its infinite detail, humble types, and atmospheric spaces, Hugo's Portinari Altarpiece helped accelerate the trend toward description in later fifteenth-century Italian painting. As noted above, Ghirlandaio was deeply impressed by this Dutch art. The more detailed Italian painting became, the more artistic control was needed to organize this wealth of detail and make it speak.
GHIRLANDAIO, SASSETTI CHAPEL, SANTA TRINITA, Florence, 1482-86, pp. 8-9.
 John VIII Palaiologos or Palaeologus was Byzantine Emperor from 1425 to 1448. John VII Palaiologos was the eldest son of Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragas, the daughter of the Serbian prince Constantine Dragas. He was associated as co-emperor with his father before 1416 and became sole emperor in 1425.
In June 1422, John VIII Palaiologos supervised the defense of Constantinople during a siege by Murad II, but had to accept the loss of Thessalonica which his brother Andronikos had given to Venice in 1423. To secure protection against the Ottomans, he visited Pope Eugene IV and consented to the union of the Greek and Roman churches. The Union was ratified at the Council of Florence in 1439 which John attended with 700 followers including Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople and George Gemistos Plethon, a Neoplatonist philosopher influential among the academics of Italy. The Union failed due to opposition in Constantinople, but through his prudent conduct towards the Ottoman Empire he succeeded in holding possession of the city.
John VIII Palaiologos named his brother Constantine XI, who had served as regent in Constantinople in 1437–1439, as his successor. Despite the machinations of his younger brother Demetrios Palaiologos his mother Helena was able to secure Constantine XI's succession in 1448.
He was married three times. The first marriage to Anna of Moscow, daughter of Grand Prince Basil I of Moscow (1389–1425) and Sophia of Lithuania, in 1414. She died in August 1417 of plague.
The second marriage, arranged by his father Manuel II and Pope Martin V, was to Sophia of Montferrat in 1421. She was a daughter of Theodore II, Marquess of Montferrat and his second wife Joanna of Bar. Joanna was a daughter of Robert I, Duke of Bar and Marie Valois. Her maternal grandparents were John II of France and Bonne of Bohemia.
His third marriage, arranged by the future cardinal, Bessarion was to Maria of Trebizond in 1427. She was a daughter of Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene. She died in the winter of 1439, also from plague. None of the marriages produced any children.
Representation in art
He was famously depicted by several painters on the occasion of his visit to Italy. Perhaps the most famous of his portraits is the one by Benozzo Gozzoli, on the southern wall of the Magi Chapel, at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, in Florence. According to some interpretations, John VIII would be also portrayed in Piero della Francesca's Flagellation. A particularly fine portrait of John appears in a manuscript at the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai.
Art in Tuscany | The Adoration of the Magi
Gardens in Tuscany | Garden of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Firenze
Medici Riccardi Palace | www.palazzo-medici.it
'Journey of the Magi' in Medici Riccardi Palace | www.museumsinflorence.com
Castelfiorentino | www.museobenozzogozzoli.it
Benozzo Gozzoli, Procession of the Middle King (south wall, detail with Nannina de' Medici with her sisters Maria and Bianca)
Benozzo Gozzoli, Procession of the Old King (moved section, backfill wall)
In 1659, the Riccardi family bought the Palazzo Medici and undertook some structural changes. This included, in 1689, the building of an exterior flight of stairs leading up to the first floor. For this purpose the entrance to the chapel had to be moved. During the process, two sections of wall were cut out of the south western corner, in the Procession of the Oldest King. After the stairs were finished, the cut out elements were mounted on a corner of the wall projecting into the room. During the course of this, the oldest king's horse was cut up and mounted on two different segments of the wall. The picture shows the backfill wall with the cut out section of the procession of the old king.