While the first series of Medici wasn’t that historically accurate, the second series “Medici: the Magnificent” is much more faithful to the truth of what really happened. It’s set during a particularly complex and turbulent period in Italy’s past, at a time when the Florentine republic was effectively ruled by the Medici. It was a thrilling period where the Renaissance was in full swing and artists like Botticelli were giving shape to their masterpieces.
In this post we take a look at how historically accurate the series is, and trust us… The truth is just as dramatic as the fiction. Be warned fans, there are plot spoilers ahead!
Medici the Magnificent – Fact and fiction in the TV series.
What is the series about?
In a nutshell the series follows the events leading up to the Congiura dei Pazzi (The Pazzi Conspiracy) in 1478. At this time the enemies of the Medici, including the Pope himself, were uniting with the Pazzi family in a plot to murder the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano. We see Lorenzo rising into power after the death of his father Piero.
The series also touches on the passionate love story between Lorenzo the Magnificent and his lover Lucrezia, and the fatal story of Giuliano and Simonetta, unhappily married to Vespucci.
Check out some curiosities about the Medici family.
What’s truth and what’s fiction in the series? The Pazzi Conspiracy
While the creators of this series have remained faithful in the rendering of all the various political intrigues, when it comes to the love stories, they’ve let their imaginations run wild.
To start with, the basic facts of the attack themselves are quite accurate. The assassination attempt did take place in the Duomo of Florence during the Easter Mass (on 26th April 1478), both brothers being set upon with knives as the priest was performing communion.
Lorenzo managed to thwart his assailants and escape into the sacristy, while Giuliano was brutally stabbed to death by Francesco dei Pazzi inside the Duomo. Historians report that Giuliano’s body had no less than 19 stab wounds.
For anyone wanting a detailed and vivid account of the Medici period, including the Congiura dei Pazzi, we recommend Christopher Hibbert’s book: The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici.
Lorenzo, the delightful tyrant
The historian Gucciardini called Lorenzo: “delightful tyrant”. Florence at this time was a constitutional republic, at least on paper. In reality the Medici had been effectively (if unofficially) ruling the city for a century, using their money and influence to shore their own power. The first Medici to do so was Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo’s grandfather, who featured in the series’ first season.
Lorenzo was no different. Ambitious both for himself and his city, he was an able diplomat who managed to become “the needle on the Italian scale”. Unlike other heads of state around Europe, he remained a simple citizen, albeit one with more power than any other.
The Pazzi Family. The great intruigers.
The Pazzi were an ancient and noble Florentine family whose wealth had come through banking. A family that sought to take the power in Florence for themselves.
In the series we see the Pazzi claiming that ridding themselves of the Medici was being done in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”. The reality was that the Pazzi, and the conspirators including the Pope, simply wanted to expand their own power.
The love stories. Lorenzo, Lucrezia and Clarice.
Lorenzo de Medici really was in love with a woman known as Lucrezia Donati. However their relationship has gone down in history as being platonic, and it’s said he wrote love poems dedicated to her. There is no proof that they had a physical relationship as shown in the series.
It’s true that Lorenzo was married to Clarice Orsini, a noble girl from Rome, a match that was organised by his mother. While Lorenzo was a headstrong and passionate, Clarice was said to have been pious and withdrawn, but also quite strong. While they might not have been a perfect match, they did have a mutual respect for each other, and managed to produce 10 children together.
Giuliano and Simonetta. A love born from a poem
The love between Giuliano de’ Medici and Simonetta Cattaeno was born from a poem by humanist poet Polizano, who we see in the series. In this poem he commemorates a joust that Giuliano won in 1475 in which he dedicates his victory to Simonetta, a woman admired throughout Florence for her beauty.
She was married to Marco Vespucci, who was the cousin of Amerigo Vespucci – the famous explorer. There is no proof that Giuliano and Simonetta had an affair, though we do know that her husband didn’t leave her to die in a cold cell as the series suggests. In fact she did die at 22, probably from tuberculosis, two years before the Pazzi conspiracy.
Giuliano did have a real lover, Fioretta, who was pregnant when he died. Their son Giulio was raised by Lorenzo and grew up to become Pope.
The series shows Giuliano as being jealous of Lorenzo, and a bit depressive, whereas the history books portray him as a handsome, athletic and kind man who was always side by side with his brother. Learn more about Giuliano de’ Medici and his life.
Botticelli, painter of the Renaissance
The series creators didn’t invent Botticelli’s love for Simonetta. Some sources suggest that he was obsessed with her and her beauty, and used her as a model in many of his paintings. It’s unlikely however that Giuliano and Simonetta posed together for the painting “Mars and Venus” though many critics suggest he was inspired by their story. Interestingly, Botticelli is buried in the same church as Simonetta – the Church of Ognissanti in Florence.
Locations – Was the show shot in Florence?
In the series, the scenes involving the exterior of the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence were in fact filmed at the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra. This would have been chosen as it’s the oldest public building in Tuscany, and has a very similar design to the Palazzo Vecchio. When the members of the republic meet in the series, we see them inside the Sala del Concilio in the Palazzo dei Priori.
When we see the residence of the Medici they are in fact using the Palazzo Piccolomini in the Piazza del Duomo, Pienza, where as in actual fact the Medici resided in Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, though this doesn’t feature at all in the series.
The shots of Florence from above, show it as a hilltop town where of course in reality it isn’t. The shots of the city walls are in fact the walls of Volterra.
One last thing… When you see the exterior of Florence’s Cathedral, it would not have looked like it does today. The facade was only added in the 19th century.