In Series One, Episode 5 of the all-new Netflix Television Series Medici: Masters of Florence, we find ourselves in Venice with Cosimo de ‘Medici, who has recently been exiled from Florence at his wife’s behest as she fought to save her husband’s life. He’s still smarting, angry at her, he thought it better to die than leave Florence.
La Serenissima – the most serene republic was a title bestowed by the Pope upon Venice during one of the rare periods when the city and the Pontiff were not at war with each other. Venice consists of 118 flat islets where early settlers, escaping from being massacred by the marauding Goths, Huns and Lombards, sought safety.
They discovered that a solid layer of clay beneath soft mud at the surface would be able to support the foundations of almost all Venice’s 20,000, or so, buildings. A city the size of New York’s central park, Venice went on to overwhelm Constantinople the richest city on earth.
The history of Venice is littered with warring, plotting of wars, profiteering from other nations wars and counting the loot brought home. The head of state for the early Republic was the Doge. He was responsible for the ecclesiastical, civil and military aspects of society.
120 men represented the Republic of Venice from 697 until it ended in 1797. The badge of office worn by the Doge was based on the design of a Phrygian fisherman’s hat, which rose to a point on a stiffened base and was sometimes set with gold and jewels.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want Spoilers.
Medici: Masters of Florence has a true historical rock star as head of the family, Cosimo de ‘Medici, known to history as Cosimo the Elder (Richard Madden).
He has been exiled from Florence by the Signoria, the body of men who guided the Republic.
Cosimo arrives in Venice at a time when it was a gateway to trade with the east, immediately making plans to visit the council chamber of the Doge to present his credentials.
On the way his cousin Mario (Lorenzo Balducci) unexpectedly arrives to inform Cosimo he has also been banished by the Signoria.
He also reveals that the man responsible for the family being exiled Rinaldo Albizzi (Lex Shrapnel) has Florence in a stranglehold, and there is terror in the streets. He advises Cosimo he has been approached by Duke Visconti’s envoy offering his army to Cosimo to help retake the city of Florence.
Visconti has the condottieri (mercenary) Francesco Sforza (Anthony Howell) as his general. While his brother Lorenzo likes the idea of direct action, Cosimo is not easily persuaded and council’s caution.
Cosimo arrives into the council chamber of Doge Foscari (James Murray) to pay his respects and declare his intentions while in exile. He is wearing a superb silk ensemble, which at that time was a sure sign of wealth. The city’s most powerful citizen invites him to a party he’s giving, telling Cosimo to look around him – Venice is the most elegant city in Europe and he should enjoy it while he is in residence.
Cosimo brings plans drawn up by his Architect Michelozzo for a new library to show to the Doge. It is my gift to Venice he explains, inspired by the library we have built in Florence. The Doge is very pleased as the building promises to be the finest in Europe. Lorenzo is outraged at the size of gift but Cosimo is not in the mood for his brother to lecture him on the evils of extravagance.
Historically Michelozzo di Barolomeo (1396-1472) did indeed accompany Cosimo de Medici who admired his attitudes, skills and worthy character, into exile in Venice and while there, was able to study its unique architecture first hand.
Back in Florence Cosimo’s right hand man and loyal friend Marco Bello (Guido Caprino) arrives to see his master’s wife Contessina (Annabel Scholey) to let her know how her husband is counting on her to help by informing him about what is happening in Florence.
Originally from a noble family, Contessina encounters the very handsome Ezio Contarini (David Sturzaker) from Mantua when she’s out and about the next day. She has known him since childhood and he is delighted to see her, and declares he wants to see her while he is in Florence as he is as he ever was, unmarried.
She tells him it’s unlikely, because she’s a married woman. Not put off one little bit he comes to visit her in her garden while she’s picking pomegranates, inviting her to supper hosted by the Pazzi family who are also hostile to the Medici. You will be my guest he says and so she agrees, because it is an opportunity to spy on their enemies for Cosimo. She arrives looking sensational wearing a red dress on Ezio’s arm.
When questioned on being left alone in the city by Rinaldo Albizzi she refutes assumptions ‘No one has been abandoned me… my father taught me to always count my blessings’. Many suffer in this city right now.
She challenges Albizzi’s claim his family are bringing about reforms for Florence. Reforms begin with upheavel he tells her. She disagrees, reforms start with progress, surely you strive for a return to the old order she questions Rinaldo and his motifs.
Society functions best when we all know our place he suggests, if your husband understood that perhaps he would still be here enjoying your beauty
What a splendid occasion says Bernardo Guadagni (Brian Cox) head of the Signoria to Pazzi (Daniel Caltagirone) reminding him that while we dine in luxury the common man is suffering… perhaps you may want to consider your allegiances.
Cosimo finds the gift of a beautiful naked red headed woman in his bed when he returns to his chamber from his study. He’s fully aware it’s impolite to refuse a gift from the Doge. At first he orders Maddalena (Sarah Felberbaum) to get dressed and leave. I am married he tells her, but then seeing old scars on her back asks if they will they beat you when I return you to the palace? They won’t be happy she says. So he tells her to sleep in his bed and goes to find another.
In the morning Maddalena is still there, beguiled by the beauty of the plans of the library she found in his room and plans for the building of the Dome at Florence. He explains the new use of perspective in art and architecture and starts to teach her to draw.
The next morning Cosimo’s cousin comes to confirm the Duke of Visconti needs to know his answer within two days. Cosimo meets with his right hand man Marco Bello and discusses the offer, asking what he would do.
Marco Bello urges him to trust his instincts. Cosimo tells him ‘a good decision is based on knowledge’ a quote by Plato and says to Marco he needs him to go to Milan and deliver a letter to the Duke, sight unseen. Do not speak to anyone but the Duke he tells him as to be discovered would endanger both their lives.
Back in Florence Ezio arrives to see Cossentina the morning after their visit to the Alibizzi palazzo, declaring her the strongest woman he knows. We find out he was indeed the young man she was in love with when her father ordered her to marry Cosimo…she was packed ready to leave with him.
I wanted to go with you…she tells him. I had everything packed, then my father told me I was to marry Cosimo… if I had gone it would have broken his heart. I understand if you hate me. I never could, he tells her, and now I know I have never stopped loving you.
He’s leaving soon because Albizzi is marrying off his son to Isabella Conterina his niece in secret; this is information Contessina knows she has to appraise Cosimo about immediately. He receives the intelligence and shares it with Lorenzo, who observes the girl’s dowry will provide extra money for Albizzi to employ mercenaries, which means the union must be stopped.
Armed with the intelligence from Cossentina Cosimo goes to the Doge with a proposal for a solution with the conundrum that is your son. If you marry him to Isabella Conterina of Mantua it would provide a benefit to us all. Imagine the profit you would make Cosimo tells the Doge.
To whom was she to be betrothed he’s asked… and when the Doge hears it’s Abizzi’s son he can see the advantage of supporting the Medici by bringing it about. He’s very keen for this money making family to stay in Venice and add to the economy. The Doge’s right hand man Sanuto (Andrea Bosca) seeks out Maddalena who he has planted in the Medici household and threatens her if she does not divulge information she is aware of. She asks for more time.
Piero and Lucrezia are arguing about his not wanting to fit into Venetian society. She tells him how her father wasted away in false hope when her family were exiled and she won’t repeat that cycle again… her attitudes are based on reality… not dreams.
Isabella’s father is leaving Florence with his daughter to go to the Doge in Venice. They have cancelled the contract with the Albizzi, as the new proposal means a much better family match. Ezio threatened by Albizzi knows Cossentina has told her husband and he may have to suffer the consequences.
Marco Bella is riding frantically back to Venice having talked to the Duke Visconti on his master’s instructions. He has found Cosimo has been tricked by his cousin and catches his master just before he enters the council chamber to talk to the Doge. Rethinking his strategy in an instant Cosimo thanks the Doge… since I have been a guest your generosity and kindness has been much appreciated, he says.
He reveals what has been really going on and denounces his cousin Mario for betraying the Medici family, ensuring he is arrested. Cosimo in so doing proves himself to the Doge. He also saves the lovely Maddalena from being hurt by Sanuto who sought to scar her for life for changing her loyalties. She shows her gratitude to Cosimo by sharing his bed.
Back in Florence Ezio is confronting Contessina about her ‘betraying’ him asking her to deny she told her husband about his niece’s impending marriage, which she won’t.
Rinaldo Albizzi Is planning to march on the Signoria and comes to see Pazzi who tries to have him see reason because he knows Bernardo Guadagni (Brian Cox) is hiding in the alcove. Albizzi out of control with hate and revenge says he will act alone if he has to. So it is out of his own mouth he is finally condemned and he’s dragged off to gaol to await trial.
Lucrezia is at a Venetian ball without Piero where the newly betrothed Doge’s son attempts to seduce her, underestimating her fiery nature as she slaps him hard and runs. Piero turns up and apologises and she tells him he is all the society she requires and asks to go back home.
Back in Florence the people of Florence hear how the Medici saved their city and start demanding his return to Florence. Contessina turns up to farewell Ezio as he is leaving town. I owe you an apology she tells him. But he’s only full of admiration…your loyalty does you credit.
He remarks about how fortune now favours your husband again. I hope he learns to honour you, as you deserve, he comments. He wants her to leave with him but she refuses… I can’t, there are greater causes than our happiness, she tells him. A truly loyal wife waiting for Cosimo to come home.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017