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.