logo Museo Galileo - Institute and Museum of the History of Science

Less gifted than his father for the mathematical sciences but strongly attracted to alchemy and the natural sciences, Francesco I (1541-1587) had built in Palazzo Vecchio a sort of secular chapel that still today represents his most vivid intellectual portrait. The so-called "Studiolo" contained works of art, naturalist objects and some of the most important products of the Medicean Foundry, where the Grand Duke personally engaged in the production of objects in glass and ceramics. For this room, Vincenzo Borghini (1515-1580) designed a complex iconographic program, carried out by various artists under the direction of Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). To trace the location of the objects in the cabinets, it was necessary to follow a mental itinerary of mnemonic nature. The memory path started from the natural origin of the objects (one of the four elements represented on the ceiling), then went on to their mythical or historical significance and lastly, in many cases, to their technical working (cabinet doors and slates). In 1577 the Grand Duke entertained the naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) in his "Studiolo", showing him "for five continuous five hours … all of the natural things such as stones, gems, clays, metals, etc. and many paintings of fish done from life".