Medici, Anna Maria Luisa de (1667–1743)

views updated

Medici, Anna Maria Luisa de (1667–1743)

Electress of the Palatinate and the last of the Medicis . Name variations: Anna Maria Luisa of the Palatinate; Anna Maria Ludovica. Born in 1667; died in 1743; daughter of Cosimo III de Medici (1642–1723), grand duke of Tuscany (r. 1670–1723), and Marguerite Louise of Orleans (c. 1645–1721); married John William of the Palatinate.

Ruler, benefactor, and the last member of the famous Medici family, Anna Maria Luisa de Medici is not a name that is well known in her native province of Tuscany. Yet among her other contributions to Florentine history, Anna Maria played a vital role in establishing Florence's modern status as an artistic and tourist center of Italy. Born into the wealthy reigning patrician family of Florence, Anna was the daughter of Grand Duke Cosimo III and his French duchess, Marguerite Louise of Orleans . Anna was only seven when her mother, unhappy in her marriage to the grand duke, left Italy and her three children to retire to a French convent.

In 1691, at the rather late age of 24, Anna Maria married John William, Elector Palatine of the Rhine (one of the seven German nobles who had the hereditary privilege of electing the German emperors), and moved to John William's capital at Dusseldorf. The marriage was part of Cosimo's plan to improve diplomatic relations between Tuscany and the Holy Roman Empire, because Cosimo needed the support of the German emperor due to the increasing threats against the political independence of the Tuscan city-state by the armies of France and Spain. Before long, however, the emperor himself was sending Austrian armies to invade the state. After the death of Anna's eldest brother in 1713, which left only her brother Gian Gastone de Medici as heir, the Florentine Senate passed a decree that Anna Maria would succeed Gian Gastone to the ducal throne if she outlived him. Naming a daughter as a potential heir, especially to such a wealthy state, was rare in the 18th century; Cosimo's actions perhaps speak to his doubts about the continuation of the Medicis and his desire to keep Tuscany in their hands, since there were no other surviving children in the immediate family.

When Elector John William died in 1716, Anna Maria, who was childless and thus had no heirs to keep her in Dusseldorf, returned to the Florentine court. Unlike her status when she had left 25 years earlier as a political pawn, on her return the 50-year-old widow Anna Maria was a political figure of great importance, the potential ruler of a vast and prosperous state. After 1722, the elderly Cosimo III essentially gave up ruling directly and allowed Anna Maria, who seems to have been his favorite child, to act in his name. Her brother and Cosimo's heir, Gian Gastone, apparently showed little inclination to leadership and was content to let Anna Maria take over her father's administrative duties, including diplomatic negotiations. She was a competent administrator and became a popular ruler.

Yet on Cosimo's death in 1723, Gian Gastone took over the reins of government; Anna Maria was forced into semi-retirement, although she remained in the grand ducal palace in Florence. During Gian Gastone's reign, Spain and Austria continued to maneuver for control of Tuscany. Fighting one another over the conquest of Tuscany, each used Gian Gastone's lack of a male heir as a pretext for invading Tuscany. Both tried to force him to name their own princes as his heir instead of Anna Maria. Gian Gastone refused to agree to these demands, but with a weakened army and his own weak leadership, there was little he could do to protect his state from its enemies.

The question of who would control Tuscany—Spain, Austria, or Anna Maria—remained unresolved on Gian Gastone's death in 1737. Austria's superior army was triumphant, and Francis II of Austria was named grand duke of Tuscany, the first who was not a member of the Medici family. Francis, who remained in Vienna, installed an administrator in the grand ducal palace in Florence where Anna Maria lived. Anna Maria was allowed by Francis to remain in the palace as well, perhaps as a means of pacifying the Tuscan people for the conquest of their state by showing respect for their beloved former ruler. She was, however, completely removed from power, and lived in a separate section of the palace. Yet she was not inactive, despite her advanced age (she was 70 when Gian Gastone died), failing health, and her status as last surviving member of the conquered ruling house of the Medici.

In her last years, Anna Maria became renowned as a benefactor and art collector. Using her vast personal wealth—from family inheritances to which Francis II of Austria had no claim—she added substantially to the Medici family art collections, already the largest and most valuable private art collection in Europe. Her purchases of new works included paintings, sculptures, jewels, and books, as well as the funding of the completion of the long-planned Medici family mausoleum. She also spent copious sums on charity for the poor of Florence, which further endeared her to her former subjects.

It was one particular bequest made in her will, however, which should have assured Anna Maria's fame in Florentine memory. Without a relative to name as heir to the immensely valuable Medici treasures, and clearly conscious of the permanent loss of Medici control of Tuscany to foreign rule, Anna Maria decided to make a gift of the entire Medici collection of art to the city of Florence. This vast treasure included much of the modern collections in the Uffizi and Pitti galleries and the Medici library, as well as numerous other museums and galleries which still form the basis of Florence's artistic and cultural artifacts. Having promised this invaluable gift to her native city, the much-beloved Electress Anna Maria died at the grand ducal palace at age 76. She was buried in the newly finished Medici mausoleum.

The treasures she left to the city remain virtually intact in Florence, drawing vast numbers of visitors to the city, in large part due to Anna Maria's stipulation that the collections never be removed from Florence and that they always be available to the public.


Micheletti, Emma. The Medici of Florence. Florence: Scala, 1980.

Young, George F. The Medici. 2nd ed. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1911.

Laura York , M.A. in history, University of California, Riverside, California

About this article

Medici, Anna Maria Luisa de (1667–1743)

Updated About content Print Article