The term ‘Medici‘ refers to the era of the Italian renaissance. The Medici family were the de facto rulers of Florence in the 15th century. They were the owners of the largest bank in Europe and believed in humanism. Under their rule, art and culture flourished in Florence.
Based on this historic reference, Netflix’s period drama Medici, spread across three seasons chronicles different phases in the lives of the family members, as well as the expansion and fall of the bank, while also documenting the political, cultural and spiritual landscape of those times. Created by Frank Spotnitz and Nicholas Meyer, Medici contextualises the dynamics of the problems prevalent during the 15th century renaissance.
The characters portrayed by women in this drama bring to light the true status of women during that period. The series commences with Cosimo de’Medici becoming the head of the family and trying to establish the bank. He is a patron of the arts and has helped create employment in the city of Florence.
The second season of the series takes place 35 years later, where Lorenzo de’ Medici, Cosimo’s grandson has taken the reins of the family. It is during his time that the bank flourishes at peak.
Spoiler alert: The following portions of this review contain plot spoilers
Marriage as a transaction, women as commodity
In all three seasons of Medici, the institution of marriage is portrayed to be a part of an economic transaction. It was a means of strengthening family ties and cementing new, profitable alliances. In the first season, Contessina de’ Bardi (played by Annabel Scholey) the wife of Cosimo de’ Medici (Richard Madden) was reluctant to marry Cosimo.
However, when the Medici offered to buy Contessina off and improve her family’s financial status, her father instantly agrees. In the same manner, in the second season- Clarice Orsini (Synovve Karlsen), Lorenzo de’ Medici’s wife (Daniel Sharman) hails from a noble family. She is the niece of a Cardinal and had her heart is set on joining the church.
Eventually, she is maneuvered by Father Carlo, Lorenzo’s half uncle to marry into the family. Lorenzo de’ Medici and Clarice Orsini are married by proxy. This was the method in which bankers brought in noble blood and elevated their status in society.
Throughout the series, it is highlighted how the role of a woman is reduced to that of a commodity, which then is used to amplify the prominence of the respective family in the society. The connections they make through marriage are also used to assert influence and gather military support.
Tactics, wit, intelligence: The survival game of women
“Give my son time” – these are the words uttered by both Cosimo’s and Lorenzo’s mothers to their respective daughters-in-law. Since marriage was a means to garner nobility and support and neither the bride nor the groom had a say in it, men in the show find an escape in extramarital affairs.
Cosimo de’ Medici brings home a slave who later bears him a son. On the other hand, Lorenzo de Medici continues to have an affair with Lucrezia Donati; a noblewoman, well after he is married. The women know of their husbands’ affairs but are told to wait for them to return affections or simply adjust to their new life. These affairs, they are told, are “youthful passions” that would go away when the men matured.
Medici chronicles the plight of women who were bonded in slavery. When Cosimo de’ Medici falls in love with a slave named Bianca, she reminds him of the harsh truth of the world and says, “Beauty doesn’t matter without food in your stomach”. At the end of that episode, it is revealed that she was beaten and bribed with money so she would leave Cosimo alone. Similarly, when Cosimo meets Maddalenna she tells him, “What good are books and the art to the hungry?”
Medici also showcases, how badly Maddalenna is treated by others in the society. Though Cosimio’s wife Contessina accepts her child, she never welcomes Maddalenna or treats her kindly.
However, despite the fact that women were subjugated, they use their sharp minds, wit, and intelligence, and manage to attain some stature at home and in the society. In the first season of Medici, Contessina de’ Bardi is shown to be running the affairs of both the house and the bank.
She saves her husband from execution, protects her house from being raided and solely manages the bank when her entire family is in exile. Moreover, even though she is apprehensive of the new woman her husband brings home, she raises her child as a person of their own.
In the second season of Medici, it is Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Cosimio’s mother, who takes the charge of the family. In season 1, under the guidance of her mother-in-law, Contessina de’ Bardi, she learns how to take care of the household and the bank. When her own son Lorenzo becomes the head of the bank, she helps him by making connections, providing valuable input and using her noble status to make diplomatic ties.
Female solidarity and sisterhood
The most pivotal aspect of Medici is perhaps the bond the women share. Though there are many female characters who do not share a good equation with each other. there is always a sense of solidarity among them. Throughout the show, women care for and appreciate each other.
The bond shared between the mother-in-law and daughter in law is the strongest and most important relationship in the show. It showcases how the two understand the circumstances of their marriage and the predicament of women within this system. Moreover, the relationship between Lucreiza Donati, (Lorenzo’s mistress) and Clarice Orsini, (Lorenzo’s wife) has a very complex connotation attached to it.
During their first meeting, Lucrezia express her concern for Clarice and says, “I feel quite protective of her.” Later in the series, even after they have had a confrontation regarding the affair, it is Lucrezia who helps a dying Clarice reach home.
Medici brings t to light the plight of women in the time of the early renaissance. It showcases their status and standing in society and how they fought societal norms to assert agency. One can trace the subjugation and the treatment of women as the “other” during the course of the show.
Moreover, the portrayal of the lives of the slaves leaves the audience confounded at the horrific treatment they were subjected to. The series underlines that for women, it is an ongoing endeavor to find their rightful place in a predominantly patriarchal society and more often than not, they fail in this endeavor in the shorter run.
However, ultimately, owing to their resilience, solidarity and persistence. they manage to turn the things around in their favour and in many ways become decisive factors in various aspects.
Featured Image Source: The Florentine