As if to emphasize to myself how rusty I am on early modern Italian history, I began my watch-through of Netflix’s various period shows with The Borgias (reviewed here on Concerning History) before moving on to Netflix’s original production Medici. Those of you in the know would have readily advised me that the golden age of Florence and the Medici family in fact preceded the Borgia papacy by decades. Laughing at myself, I then proceeded to watch in Netflix’s automatic order…which showed me the second season before the first. No matter! Despite my erstwhile beginnings, I eagerly dove into this melodrama set in the heart of the Renaissance.
Medici is effectively an anthology series as it currently stands, each season telling the story of a notable generation of that wide-reaching, powerful family. The first (which I watched second), subtitled Masters of Florence, might ring some bells for Game of Thrones fans out there. Richard Marsden, better known as Robb Stark, stars as Cosimo de Medici, the first Medici patriarch to consolidate near-total control over the Florentine Republic. The second, subtitled The Magnificent, follows Cosimo’s grandson Lorenzo as he ushers in Florentine regional supremacy and the height of the Renaissance. In keeping with big name draws, this second season features another Game of Thrones alum, the great Sean Bean himself, as Lorenzo’s nemesis Jacopo de Pazzi.
More than anything else, Medici feels like an advertisement for the Italian Renaissance. This humanist art movement infiltrates nearly every scene and subplot. Indeed, perhaps the most consequential throughline of the first season is Cosimo’s efforts to complete the dome of Florence’s new cathedral! Donatello and Boticcelli are both minor characters with plenty of screen time. Resistance to these new trends also figures prominently, and the Pazzi condemnation of neo-Classical statuary as pagan and hedonistic becomes a major criticism of Medici rule in general. While this leads to fantastic sets and tableaus, it unfortunately leaves any other story somewhat lacking, and what we do get can feel like just an early modern soap opera.
While I enjoyed both seasons of Medici and look forward to a third, I must admit that no element was truly memorable. Its history is fine, but not ground breaking, and the same goes for its more theatrical elements. You won’t be disappointed in the watching, but you likely won’t be floored, either. If you’re simply paging through Netflix on the hunt for a period piece, give it a try! Don’t prioritize it, however, if you have other more pressing shows on your list.