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The Medici on Netflix



I was excited to hear that Netflix was going to do a dramatic series on the Medici. As someone who researches and studies the Medici dynasty, seeing history, especially a history you are so familiar with, come to life is always exciting. My excitement, however, began to fade when I heard that Netflix was going the traditional route, focusing on Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo the Magnificent. These are the most studied and exalted members of the family, and are often portrayed as heroes who single-handedly ushered in the advent of modern (western) civilization (I study lesser-know and later members of the family).

As disappointed as I was, I decided to watch anyway. I mean it's only 8 episodes and I am not too ashamed to admit I really enjoy Reign and the Borgias (although not for their historical accuracy). But honestly, Netflix's take on the Medici was just so-so and overall disappointing. I know I am the toughest critic, but the show managed to make a fascinating and complex period of Florentine/European history seem boring! I think they attempted to cover too much time in the eight introductory episodes, which made the characters feel under-developed.

There were two things I did like. First, they correctly pronounce Medici. It is med-eh-chee, not med-ee-chee, for some reason Americans always say the latter. And second, the cinematography is beautiful. They shot the series in Tuscany, and while it is gorgeous to look at, it bugged me to no end that they don't use Florence (just some digital recreations and panning-shots)! From what I can deduce from watching, they shot the series in Pienza and Montepulciano. Two charming Tuscan towns yes, but not 15th century Florence (see more of Florence here).

Speaking of 15th century Florence, the city (who should be the true protagonist of the show, IMHO) was a vibrant, politically complex, and volatile place. The Black Death, urbanization, new banking methods, expanding international trade, and new technological advancements reshaped the social, political, and cultural landscape of Italy from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. While much of Europe remained encumbered by the feudal system, city-states like Florence grew and flourished, empowering bankers and merchants like the Medici along the way. But as we all know, with great wealth and power comes great intrigue and scandal.

It appears that the series wants to move on to the next generation of Medici in season two (with Lorenzo the Magnificent). I can only hope that they do a better job revealing the political and social complexities of the period, rather than continue to bolster the out-dated (and boring) narrative of the early Medici men as the architects of the "Renaissance" who personally sacrificed to "build" the foundation of modern civilization. Remember, they were an incredibly wealthy and powerful family (of men and women) who ruled the state of Tuscany for three centuries and produced two Popes and two French queens.

I think I am just bitter they did not ask me to consult. And frankly, it was no Gilmore Girls.

Has anyone else watched? What did you think? And please feel free to leave any Medici or Italian history related questions below.
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Ashley B
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11 comments:

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  2. I haven't watched yet, but plan too. Any historical fiction/period piece tends to be my cup of tea, even if its highly inaccurate. I confess, I do not know much about the Medici family, other than the standard narrative, but would love to learn more. Do you have any books you recommend that share the side of their story that you're so passionate about?

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    1. Hi Sarah, sadly there are not a lot of good, recent works on the Medici. There is one recent and fabulous collection of essays on the Medici women. I think you would enjoy it! http://rstyle.me/n/b9q25vyw86.

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  3. I started watching the show Sunday and finished it last night. I was initially intrigued by the show, but my intrigue fizzled out with the lack of character development, so I agree with you on that point! It made me sad because I LOVE Richard Madden, but the second he became likable the writing went in a totally different direction. I am a second-generation American and my family are all from Colognora (tiny, itty bitty town outside Lucca) so I started reading your blog a couple years ago while you were in Italy so I could travel vicariously! If you could recommend 3 of your favorite historical books on the Medici, what would they be? (That's going to be hard for you, I'm sure....)

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    1. Ciao Elizabeth! I have never been to Colognora, but I love Lucca and now I am curious!

      Ok three books is tough. My favorite is definitely the new series of essays on the Medici Grand Duchess - Medici Women: The Making of a Dynast (http://rstyle.me/n/cb97csyw86).

      The problem is that historians would never write a history of the Medici. It is too big of a project. So most of what is written about the family as a whole is not written by historians and is not based on archival research. Historians tend to focus on one period, theme, or individual.

      This work looks at the cultural world of Elenora (the first Grand Duchess) - http://rstyle.me/n/cb98a9yw86; and this one focuses on Florence and Cosimo I - http://rstyle.me/n/cb98gsyw86. Hope you enjoy! If I think of any others, I will let you know!

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  4. I just finished it today but I actually LOVED it. I love Florence (just another study abroad student who adored the city), but really only knew the barest of bones about the Medici. I think I liked it because to me the story was fresh, and I actually really loved the characters and the plot!

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    1. That is the good part about historical fiction, it is often a nice introduction to a topic or period. I just don't like the picture we paint of these "great men" who alone "built" the Renaissance. It was far more complex (and intriguing). The Medici ruled Florence for three centuries, produce two Popes, and two French Queens. They are definitely fascinating to study, especially if you spent time in Florence!

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  5. As a student of the Medicis, I was taken aback by some of the re-write of history (i.e. Giovannis and Lorenzo's murders) Entertaining, nonetheless. History, no.

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    1. I know! I don't even understand why they did that. What plot or point did it further? History is so fascinating and complex, it doesn't need to be rewritten!

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  6. I attempted to watch but I had a really hard time getting hooked on it. I'm making my rounds on historical fiction on Netflix while on break so hopefully when I circle back to I'll be more into it!

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