The Florentine. The Great Diamond of Tuscany

The exhibition “Il Fiorentino. Il Gran Diamante di Toscana” currently underway at Palazzo Medici Riccardi, and so instead of closing as planned on 26 January, it will be extended to 22 February 2022. Dedicated to one of the most precious and rare jewels of the Medici family, the “Gran Diamante” of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, also known as “Il Fiorentino”, now lost, the exhibition is enriched by a new and extraordinary piece hitherto unpublished: a plaster cast of the precious stone found in the deposits of the National Archaeological Museum of Florence (Regional Directorate of Museums of Tuscany).

The plaster cast is part of the Archaeological Museum’s coin cabinet, into which the numismatic and glyptic collections from the Uffizi Galleries were merged in 1895, and is housed in a small leather jeweller’s box. Most likely made of coated plaster, the mould of the diamond is accompanied by handwritten notes, one of which, on the lid of the box, identifies the object as the imprint of the Gran Diamante di Toscana, while the second, on a separate note, gives the weight in carats, the value in lire and a description of the colour of the stone.

The extraordinary piece, still to be studied and not previously inventoried, will join the other works on display from Friday 28 January 2022. The exhibition, promoted by the Metropolitan City of Florence, organised by MUS.E and curated by Carlo Francini and Valentina Zucchi, is the second exhibition in the Cammei cycle, a series of small exhibitions, intimate in tone but of great importance, dedicated to highlighting the works and stories linked to Palazzo Medici Riccardi.


In the 17th century, ‘Il Fiorentino’, a diamond of exceptional size and citrine yellow in colour, was the second largest gem in the world, after that belonging to the Mughal emperor. Purchased in 1601 by Ferdinando I de’ Medici, it was worked for a long period by the cutter Pompeo Studendoli, a Venetian craftsman living in Florence. The result was a splendid almond-shaped jewel, with a double rose cut with nine sides and 127 facets, which was then inserted into an equally sumptuous pendant frame. This precious artefact, an icon of luxury and power, remained in the hands of the Medici until Tuscany passed to the Lorraine family, when it was taken to Vienna, and then vanished into thin air during the First World War.

The documents on display allow us to retrace the history of this extraordinary jewel, starting from the first letters in which the diamond was proposed to Grand Duke Francesco I in June 1579 – “the most beautiful thing ever to come from Asia”, we read, and the inventory drawn up in 1621 at the death of Cosimo II, who bought the stone and commissioned its manufacture, through to the Inventory of the Jewels of the State of Tuscany that Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, Electress Palatine, commissioned in 1741, all of which are kept in the Florence State Archives. These are accompanied by graphic works that show the interest and wonder aroused by the ‘Great Diamond of Tuscany’, including a 17th-century engraving in the Marucelliana Library and the book Le six voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1676), in which the French explorer published an account of the six long exotic voyages he made during his life and in which he recalled and reproduced the largest and most beautiful diamonds he had seen in Europe and Asia: In second place, after the diamond of the Grand Mogul, is the “diamant du Grand Duc de Toscane”, indicated here as 139 carats and citrine in colour, on loan from the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence; the printed table in the “Sunti del Tarpato” (1740), by Andrea da Verrazzano and the only known representation of the diamond in both rough and faceted form – therefore taken from an early 17th century drawing, before the stone was mounted – kept at the Accademia di scienze e lettere la Colombaria.

The portrait of Maria Magdalena of Austria, probably painted by Domenico and Valore Casini and owned by the Florentine Galleries, exceptionally reproduced in the exhibition, offers the opportunity to admire the very elegant garland on the head of the Archduchess, adorned with the diamond in its equally precious mount, which in the inventories will be described as “a thin snake all studded with small Diamonds, which with its branches supports the said Diamond in the air”. The exhibition also displays the recently restored full-length portrait of Cosimo II Medici, his consort, painted by Domenico and Valore Casini in gold damask and ermine mantle, sceptre and grand ducal crown (inv. 3197-1890).

The exhibition also offers other documentary evidence of the jewel, including drawings, Medici inventories and various archive documents, to reconstruct the history and events, but also the appearance and characteristics of one of the most famous stones in the world, whose traces were lost at the beginning of the 20th century. The exhibition also features an extraordinary reproduction of the Medici jewel, made of cubic zirconia by the goldsmith Paolo Penko. Thanks to painstaking research into iconography and ancient techniques, Penko has recreated, for the first time in the world, the precious serpentine setting with which Maria Magdalena of Austria used to wear the diamond. The snake was made using the sepia bone casting technique, perfectly shaped to accommodate the reproduction of the Fiorentino in cubic zirconia. The frame has been embellished with the same number of diamonds as the original, no less than 182 antique rose-cut stones, set with small fragments of silver leaf.

The copy of “Il Marzocco” of 26 August 1923, which is now kept in the Gabinetto G.P. Viesseux in Florence, will no longer be present. On its front page, it features the article “Il Fiorentino and the events of its purchase”, signed by Nello Tarchiani.


Useful info

Florence – Museum of Palazzo Medici Riccardi

exhibition closing date 22 February 2022

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