The Martelli Family Between Wealth and Culture
Francesca Fiorelli Malesci, Daniela Cini
Museo di Casa Martelli, Firenze
Since the fourteenth century the Martelli family – whose last dwelling became a state museum in 2009 (the Museo di Casa Martelli) – had often played a significant role in the economic, social and political events of the Medici Tuscany.
Important real-estate acquisitions were already made between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including the two main residences built in town on the Via degli Spadai and the Via della Forca (called today Via Martelli and Via F. Zanetti).
The large offspring (consisting of fourteen children) of the ancestor Niccolò (1369–1425) launched six different family branches over the first decades of the fifteenth century, generating long and abundant lines of descent thereafter. The line descended from Ugolino (1400–1484) lasted until the second half of the twentieth century. This paper covers the period beginning at the turn of the seventeenth century, when Ugolino’s descendant, Marco (1592–1678) – son of Francesco (1543–1601) and Maddalena Niccolini – strengthened the family stock by marrying his distant cousin Maria (d. 1631) daughter of Baccio, and after her death, Lucrezia Franceschi. Marco, along with his younger brothers Vincenzo (1593-1658) and Giovan Francesco (1597-1656), whose assets he inherited after their death, gave a considerable boost to the family’s commercial activities in Rome and Florence. Thanks to this financial upswing and to their increased political power (Marco was named senator and provveditore of the Monti del Sale in 1637 and inherited the title and benefice of the Baliato de’ Urbino in 1655), the Martelli started enlarging the family’s artistic possessions. The origins of art collecting in the family are to be found in one of Ugolino’s sons: Roberto (1408-1464), a friend and business partner of Cosimo de’ Medici, who first established the family’s political prominence and also its artistic patronage by commissioning works from Donatello.
We examine how wealth in this context was used by Marco and his siblings not only in financial and commercial activities, but also to create and collect works of art. A new concept of culture and self-awareness of the nobility was rising, and consequently, new consumer habits were emerging among the upper class: their spending capacity, triggered by social competition, was being directed towards durable assets. The production and consumption of luxury goods became a hallmark for such families as the Martelli to affirm their status in order to bring prestige, distinction and decorum to their own lineage. Within this context, art collecting and patronage were also seen as a means of social competition.
The family inventories from the end of the sixteenth century, including one concerning valuable items owned by Camilla Martelli (Inventario di gioie, 1574), the morganatic wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I, and those written for various reasons during the first half of the seventeenth century, are useful to understand how the collection was formed and to identify art works already assembled within the Martelli properties.