Marie de’ Medici (1573–1642)

Marie de’ Medici became queen of France upon marrying King Henri IV in October 1600. She was his second wife. Henri had annulled his first marriage to Marguerite de Valois after converting to Catholicism in 1593. This was not the first union of French royalty and the powerful Florentine family; in fact Marguerite de Valois was one of the children of Catherine de’ Medici and Henri II of France, who had married in 1533. Marie was distantly related to Catherine and Marguerite, as she was descended from a different line of the Medici family.

The wedding of Henri IV and Marie de’ Medici was a proxy wedding, the term used when the bride or groom is not physically present for the marriage ceremony. Marie’s uncle, Ferdinando, Grand Duke of Tuscany, (who had arranged the match) stood in for Henri IV at the ceremony in Florence. The Medici family members were renowned patrons of the arts, and Ferdinand was no exception: the nuptials were marked by a performance of the newly-invented dramatic art form of opera (Eurydice by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini). Marie would have grown up well accustomed to artistic patronage through knowledge of the Medici family’s collections and commissions. A woodcut portrait of a woman in profile is attributed to her. It is cut with the lettering Maria Medici F. MDLXXXVII (Maria de’ Medici made this 1587) ( P.5610-R).

At the French court Marie patronised theatre, music and ballet as well as sculpture, paintings and architectural projects. Her situation changed in 1610 when her husband was assassinated by a religious fanatic called François Ravaillac. French Salic law prevented Marie from inheriting the throne, but a caveat allowed her to reign as Regent if the dauphin was too young, which Louis was. Marie found her Regency power difficult to relinquish. She maintained control even after her son came of age in 1614. Eventually Louis became fed up and exiled his mother from Paris. They were reconciled in 1621 and Marie returned and devoted herself to the build of her new abode, the Palais du Luxembourg. The first stone had been laid in 1615, but work lapsed during her banishment. The Queen mother intended it to be built after the model of the Pitti Palace, her childhood home. She sought out the painter Peter Paul Rubens for some canvasses to hang in her new grand home.

One of Rubens’ first important patrons was Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Marie’s brother in law (who married Marie’s elder sister, Eleonora de’ Medici in 1584). Marie commissioned Rubens to paint two large series depicting her life and that of her late husband to adorn the lower floors of the wings of the palace. Only the first series was completed, comprising 21 enormous canvases (four metres high and varying widths) of scenes of her life in allegorical terms (as well as portraits of her parents). It was finished in 1624, a few months before celebrations began for the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Maria to the fated Charles I.

This portrait print is one of the original number intended for the Anthony Van Dyck’s Iconography, the uniform series of portrait prints after his own designs. The series published in Van Dyck’s lifetime comprised eighty portraits. Only four of the sitters are female. The lettering on the frontispiece of the first posthumous edition divides the portraits into three groups: Principum / Vivorum Doctorum / Pictorum Chalcographorum Statvariorum nec non Amatorum Pictoriae Artis (Princes / scholars / painters, engravers, sculptors and lovers of the art of painting). Print historians have interpreted the three headings in different ways, broadening them to ensure they encompass the stations of other sitters in the series. But the females, who all belong to the first category (Principum ‘Princes’) aren’t always adequately described.

Museum Number P.2829-R

More portraits prints of Marie de’ Medici from the collection:

Marie de' Medici, as Justice, seated on her throne

Marie de' Medici wearing an elaborate costume magnificently engraved by Anton Wierix

King Henry IV and Maria de' Medici

Henry IV, Marie de' Medici, Louis and his half brother César, duc de Vendôme in a room with a nanny and four other personages

See also an eighteenth-century folding fan depicting the coronation of Marie de’ Medici

Anthony Van Dyck also etched some portraits himself. Some fine impressions from the Museum’s collection are on display in the exhibition Changing Faces: Anthony Van Dyck as an Etcher 17 February - 24 May 2009 Charrington Print Room (Gallery 16)

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