Throughout history, women have been largely ignored for their contributions to their families, and the Medici are no exception.
It was rare that a woman, no matter her status, was able to carve out her own story and have a marked place in the world.
Like other noble women during this time, Medici women were used by their families to create political alliances through marriage and to ensure the family line through children.
Many women of note came from the Medici Dynasty, including multiple duchesses outside the Duchy of Tuscany, three queens, an Empress, and an Electress.
After the deaths of their husbands, several of these women stepped into the role of regent until their sons came of age.
In addition to the pressures of their familial duties, women in 17th-century Italy also had the uncertainties of surviving childbirth, avoiding illnesses like the plague, and the constant threat of war between city states and countries.
Through all of these obstacles, the Medici women were resilient and steadfast until the very last.
The use of women sitters in portraits became more common after the peak of the Renaissance and coming into the Baroque period.
Women, much like men, were painted in their ideal image with emphasized beauty and special attention to costume.
The effect of this was to show off their wealth and lineage to whomever viewed them. At the beginning of the Renaissance, women were painted in profile, rather that straight on, to imply modesty and humility.
It was not until the Baroque period with Flemish influence that women began to be painted in three-quarter or frontal view.
Often times, these portraits were commissioned by fathers to send to potential suitors, in order to provide a visual incentive for marriage.
Otherwise, they were commissioned by their husbands to accompany their own portraits and add to their own show of wealth.
These portraits were just another way for women to ensure they upheld their family name and reputation.
Born 7 Feb 1622, Vittoria della Rovere was the only child of Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, the son of the Duke of Urbino, and Claudia de’ Medici, a sister of Cosimo II de’ Medici.
She was betrothed as an infant to the future Grand Duke Ferdinando II (who was 13 years old at the time) in order to secure her inheritance of the duchy of Urbino.
The duchy of Urbino was then resigned to Pope Urban VIII by her father causing her to only be allowed to inherit moveable goods such as artwork and the Duchies of Rovere and Montefeltro as part of her dowry.
She and Ferdinando were wed in 1633 when she was 11, but not officially consummated for another 6 years. Vittoria bore him 4 children, but only 2 survived to adulthood.
She had been raised in the convent of Crocetta causing her to be a deeply religious woman all her life. Due to her religious upbringing, she insisted that her children be raised the same way and were taught to shun the sciences. After the death of her husband in 1670, her son Cosimo III became Grand Duke and assigned to her the daily administration of Tuscany allowing her to be admitted to the Grand Duke’s Privy Council.
She and her son had a very close relationship and when conflicts arose between Vittoria and her daughter in law, Marguerite Louise d’Orléans, Cosimo would take his mother’s side causing even more tension in the marriage.
When Marguerite returned to France after only 15 years of marriage, Vittoria raised her three grandchildren and the last generation of Medici; Ferdinando, Anna Maria Luisa, and Gian Gastone. She died 5 March 1694 in Pisa at the age of 72. The title of della Rovere died with the ending of the Medici line.
Maria de’ Medici was born 26 April 1575 as the youngest of six daughters and one son of Francesco I de’ Medici and Joanna d’ Austria.
Following the death of Joanna, Francesco married his long-time mistress Bianca Cappello, both of which died after only 9 years together.
It was most likely malaria that killed them, but there were conspiracy theories stating that Francesco’s younger brother and successor, Ferdinando I, poisoned them.
Maria’s uncle set to work securing her a good marriage and the match was settled on King Henry IV of France. This marriage was chosen in order to pay back the war aid debt owed to Francesco.
She bore him 6 children and reigned as regent for her young son after her husband was assassinated in 1610.
Her regency was marred by bad policies and frivolous spending followed by rebellions against her son, King Louis XIII, and an exile.
She died in 1642 in Brussels, destitute, having been banished by her son 11 years prior.
Eleonora Gonzaga was born 23 September as the youngest daughter of Vincenzo Gonzaga and Eleonora de’ Medici and was the niece of Maria de’ Medici, Queen of France. She was educated under the guidance of her paternal aunt, Margherita Gonzaga, the Dowager Duchess of Ferrara and Modena.
Her education included learning foreign languages, history, music, painting, and religion. Unfortunately, her father died before a marriage could be arranged and a contract signed.
She eventually became the second wife of her godfather, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II after receiving dispensation by the Holy See in Rome.
They were married on 2 Feb 1622 in Innsbruck. Ferdinand had seven children from his previous marriage and he and Eleonora never had children.
Despite this the marriage was reported to be a happy one despite their 20-year age difference.
After moving to Vienna she learned German and employed the previous Empresses’ servants over her own.
She was then crowned Queen of Hungary in 1622 and Holy Roman Empress, German Queen, and Queen of Bohemia in 1627. Her art patronage allowed the Imperial court in Vienna to become a center of European baroque music.
Eleonora died in Vienna on 27 June 1655 aged 56 and was buried in the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites.
Her heart was placed in a vessel next to the tomb of her husband in his mausoleum at the time of her death. Her body was then transferred to St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna in 1782.
Margherita Gonzaga was born 2 October 1591 as the eldest daughter of Vincenzo Gonzaga and Eleonora de’ Medici and was sister to Eleonora Gonzaga.
She became the second wife of Henry II, Duke of Lorraine on 24 April 1606.
Henry’s first wife was 40 years old at the time of their marriage and the marriage never produced any children.
Margherita had four daughters, two of which survived to go on to marry their Gonzaga cousins. She died on 7 February 1632 in Nancy, France.
Born on 21 July 1616, Archduchess Anna de’ Medici was the third daughter and sixth child of Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Maria Maddalena of Austria.
Cosimo died in 1621 leaving her mother, Maria Maddalena, and paternal grandmother, Christina of Lorraine, to rule as regents until her brother, Ferdinand II, had come of age.
Anna was married to her double first cousin Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Further Austria on 10 June 1646.
She was 30 and he was 18. Both she and her husband preferred the Italian courts to the mountains of Austria and spent much of their time at Florentine court.
So much so that their first daughter, Claudia Felicitas, the future Holy Roman Empress, was born therein 1653.
As was Medici family tradition, Anna was a patron of the arts. The composer and singer Barbara Strozzi dedicated her work, Opus 5, Sacri musicali Affetti, to Anna as did other musicians.
Anna outlived her husband and eldest daughter dying at the age of 60 on 11 September 1676.