Eleonora di Toledo was a Spanish noble who married Cosimo I de Medici. The Medici dynasty was one of the most influential families in Florence. However, their title came from their success in commerce rather than inheritance or warfare. As a noble, Eleonora was able to provide the family with an elevated status. She eventually gave the Medici’s much more through her power and influence. Now, she is known as one of the most substantial women of her time. 

Cosimo I & Eleonora

Eleonora was arranged to marry Cosimo at the age of 17. Luckily, their marriage was happy, and their love is considered one of the great romances of Florence. They were even able to have 11 children together (yes, you read that right).

5 of these children were boys who grew to adulthood, further establishing the Medici line. They lived together at the Palazzo Vecchio, then known as the Ducal Apartments.

Cosimo loved and trusted Eleonora deeply. Cosimo trusted her and her mind so much that he named her Queen regent. This allowed her to rule any time he was away on business or political ventures.

Eleonora was able to truly establish herself as a powerful female figure for her people and her family. Though some distrusted her at the beginning of their marriage, as she was a Spaniard, she soon became a beloved ruler. She proved herself worthy of adoration through her multiple positive qualities.

Eleonora, A buisiness woman, Art Lover & Fashion influencer 

One of Eleonora’s strong points was her business-oriented mind. She was a successful landowner and used her crops, such as grain, for trade. Her trade even went as far as Spain. This wealth allowed her to make significant purchases.

She commissioned the artists who worked on her apartments, acquired Palazzo Pitti, and constructed the Vasari Corridor. Her success and good sense were also expressed in her fashionable style. Many of the dresses she wore were ornate, beautiful, and highly coveted. She became a great influence on the Florentine people, especially her fellow fashion-conscious nobles. The love for her style was so great that there were even (false) rumors that she was buried in one of her famous gowns.

Her taste can be seen even in the Palazzo Vecchio. There, her private apartments were decorated with powerful and significant women. She had four separate rooms, each with frescos dedicated to an iconic woman. A popular room is Sala di Penelope, which tells the story of the wife of Ulysses. Her fidelity and dedication likely were a reference to Eleonora’s traits.

This is likely true for each of the women pictured. The independence and free will of Gualdrada, for example, could be a nod to Eleonora’s independence from Spain. Gualdrada’s rejection of the Emperor in Sala di Gualdrada is a clear example of a woman’s ability to maintain control. Sala della Sabine and Sala di Ester also tell the stories of women who were heroines of their time. 

Eleonora was also known to be very pious. She had a private chapel built for private prayer and visited these quarters frequently for hours at a time. With its large frescos, the chapel is one of the most significant parts of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Each of the pieces is painted in the mannerist style, using twisted elongate bodies to show emotion and turmoil. When visiting, you will be able to see the giant ceiling piece that is split into four quadrants.

The faces of the Holy Trinity anchor the center of the fresco, and the Archangel Michael, John the Evangelist, Jerome, and Francis of Assisi surround it. There are also two stories of Moses on the wall, the Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses Appointing Joshua.

Finally, dominating the center of the chapel is the Lamentation scene. This fresco, while about the mourning of Jesus, is dominated by holy women. There are five in total. They include the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, thus keeping with her preferred theme of powerful women.

If you would like to know more about Eleonora and the Medici family, you may visit her exhibition at Palazzo Pitti or see her apartments in Palazzo Vecchio with one of our certified tour guides, today!

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