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three pairs of lovers with space



Ferdinando II de’ Medici (14 July 1610 – 23 May 1670) was Grand Duke of Tuscany, an autonomous state within the Holy Roman Empire, from 1632 to 1670.

The main source of his private life is the Vita di Ferdinando II. quinto granduca di Toscana (Life of Ferdinando II, 5th Grand Duke of Tuscany), the first of four parts of a manuscript in the Moreniana Library in Florence entitled Storia della nobile e reale casa de Medici (History of the noble and royal house of Medici) written after 1737 and probably before 1750, possibly by one Luca Strombosi. The second part of the same manuscript was the Life of Gian Gastone I, Seventh and Last Grand Duke of the Royal House of Medici, about Ferdinando II’s grandson. Both the first two parts were published by Giornale di Erudizione in Florence in 1886, edited by Filippo Orlando and Giuseppe Baccini, as part of a series titled Bibliotechina Grassoccia.

Presented here is this website’s translation of pp. 12-18 of Orlando and Baccini’s edition of the Life of Ferdinando II, the only section that is of Greek love interest.


Medici. GD Vittoria nee della Rovere by Justus Sustermans ca. 1642
Grand Duchess Vittoria by Justus Sustermans, ca. 1642

In 1635 the Grand Duke Ferdinando took as his wife the Duchess Vittoria della Rovere, the last of the said family, very rich in freehold lands and of great wealth, by whom he had a son whom he named Cosimo, who later succeeded him as ruler.   

It happened one day that while the Grand Duke was in his bedchamber, he was enjoying one of his beautiful pages of honour, known as Count Bruto della Molara, when, all of a sudden, the Grand Duchess unexpectedly arrived and found the Grand Duke in this act; but she immediately left without speaking, and thus making him look bad, so that he was angry and stayed eighteen years without lying with her and gave himself up to other ways of amusing himself.[1] The Grand Duchess regretted this many times and repented of the manner that she had insisted on with the Grand Duke and tried more than once to return to his favour, but at the time it was in vain.   

It happened that during Lent a learned Jesuit preached in S. Lorenzo and the Grand Duke went there every day; one morning the Grand Duchess called the Jesuit to her and obliged him to preach a sermon on sodomy; the friar obeyed and the Grand Duke returned to the palace and called Bruto, his beautiful page, and said to him, “Have you heard for whom the sermon was given this morning? It was made for us. You must therefore bring yourself this day, pompously adorned, to present the friar with my order, and as you will be in his cell, work in such a way that he will fall in love with you, and see to it that its effect has its end.” Bruto took himself to the poor friar, and so much did he know how to entice him that in the end he succumbed; the next day the friar took himself to the Grand Duke to thank him for the gift he had given him, and the Grand Duke told him that he had given him that gift as a reward for the fine sermon he had preached the day before on sodomy, but that the example he had given to his page after lunch had borne greater fruit; and with a threatening and angry face he departed at once, and left the friar half dead, who, once he recovered, went to his monastery, and shortly afterwards mounted a gig, went out of the realm, and nothing more was heard of him.

Franceschini Baldassare. Count Bruto della Morala as Ganymede   
Bruto (probably) as Ganymede by Baldassare Franceschini

The said Bruto was always his favourite, so much so that at the age of 36 he quitted being his page and became a “black” page.[2] At night, with the aforesaid and other men chosen to guard him, the Grand Duke willingly went wandering through the city, and through various houses where there were beautiful women and maidens, with whom Bruto amused himself in the presence of the Grand Duke; which he took pleasure in, but did not want to impregnate the maidens. The Grand Duke saw a most beautiful girl, who was said to be the most beautiful female in Florence, and he sent Bruto to find out who she was and try to make her enamoured of himself. Bruto understood her to be the daughter of a water-seller, who lived in Borgo Tegolaia; but no matter how hard he tried to get around her, it was never possible to make her fall in love with the Grand Duke, who, incapacitated by this, sent others, but all was in vain; in the end the girl declared that if the Grand Duke wanted, she first wanted to be with a handsome youth whom she liked very much and had fallen in love with him without his knowing anything about it. This handsome young man was a silk merchant in Simone Acciaiuoli’s workshop and his name was Cosimo Barberini. The Grand Duke made the youth understand that at two in the night[3] he was to be at the door of Boboli, which he obeyed and was introduced into a flat, and shortly afterwards the Grand Duke appeared there and told him the reason why he had called him and showed him the girl, whom he did not know; but she boldly jumped on his neck and began to kiss him and they had a good time, but without “the Turk entering Constantinople.”[4] One evening, when the Grand Duke was in the house of the aforesaid girl, and the two lovers were on a bed where there was mosquito netting, and the Grand Duke was holding a lamp in his hand to see the love-making more clearly, the mosquito netting caught fire by accident, and the whole room burnt to the ground, and H.R.H. and the other two put it out with difficulty.

Medici Ferdinando II de GD of Tuscany by Justus Sustermans   
Ferdinando II by Justus Sustermans

The master of the “red” pages of honour was Fr. Alessandro Zetti, a man of excellent habits and simple; at that time the pages resided in the palace, and the Grand Duke called “his maidens” to him and made them take great account of him. Among these pages, the most beautiful then were the aforementioned Molara and the Marquis Ridolfi di via della Scala, who later took as his wife in his old age the daughter of the knight Castelli. They would lie together secretly every night, but Zetti noticed this and shouted at them severely, but they did not take any notice and laughed at him, so he scolded them again and threatened that he would report everything to the Grand Duke; But they did not care about it, always denying the fact, although secretly seen by Zetti himself, who spoke in the wind, so he made it known to the Grand Duke, who said that he could not believe it, and Zetti affirmed it to him, so the Grand Duke said to him: “When these two are in place, you bring yourself to warn me.” It was not until one night, when the two pages were together, that Zetti ran with a lantern in his hand to tell the Grand Duke, who upon hearing this, put a small coat on his back and taking a candle in his hand, followed Zetti and, entering the room, found the two pages embracing. They being frightened by the sudden appearance of the Grand Duke, he comforted them not to be afraid, and, handing over the candlestick into Zetti’s hand, he took off the small coat, lay down in the midst of those two and played with them for a few hours, requiring light from Zetti, who can be believed to have been mortified and full of blushes. Then the Grand Duke departed and Zetti accompanied him back to his rooms, and the Grand Duke told him that whenever he saw those pages together, he should warn him for the reason that he wanted to chastise them as he had seen just now, concluding that the catamite boys had to be severely chastised with a nerve.[5] Zetti replied nothing, as he no longer had the zeal or curiosity to see or report such things, no longer wanting to hold the light and hold the Grand Duke’s mule, as they say.

The Grand Duke was reunited with his wife, and they had Prince Francesco Maria, who was later Cardinal of the Holy Church.

Florence. 1660 map by Wenceslaus Hollar
Map of Florence by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1660

Editor’s Note

The full identity and importance of Ferdinando II’s beloved, the Roman Count Bruto di Tebaldo Annibaldi della Molara has been explored in the Medici archives and other contemporary documents by Walter Bernardi in his Il Paggio e l’anatomista; Science, Sangue e Sesson alla corte del Granduca di Toscana (The Page and the Anatomist; Science, Blood and Sesson at the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany), Florence: Le Lettere, 2008.

From this, it can be gathered that he remained high in the Ferdinando’s favour until his death in 1670, having risen to become treasurer of the Grand Ducal chambers, but that he was immediately afterwards stripped of his honours and privileges and forced to flee Florence permanently for having given deep offence to his widow. He died in 1685.

The portrait of a boy on this page was once thought to be of Herakles’s loved-boy Hylas (of whom three other paintings by are known), an attribution that goes back to 1681 and may have been claimed in a deliberate attempt to avoid making scandalous reference to the love affair of Ferdinando and Bruto (the latter’s depiction as Ganymede, the boy abducted by Zeus to be his beloved and cupbearer, making the nature of their relationship obvious). The reasons for believing the boy in the portrait was meant to be Ganymede, and that Bruto was probably the model for him, were set out by Maria Cecilia Fabbri, Alessandro Grassi and Riccardo Spinelli in “Ganimede con vaso d’oro e coppa de cristallo, [Ritratto del conte Bruto di Tebaldo Annibaldi della Molara (1639-1685)?]” in their Volterrano, Baldassare Franceschini (1611-1690), Florence 2013, cat.46, pp.184-187.


[1] It is true and remarkable that after giving birth early in her marriage to three children (of whom only the third, Cosimo, born on 14 August 1642, survived infancy), there was a huge gap of seventeen and a half years until the Grand Duchess conceived her next and last child (born on 12 November 1660). However, the whole gap cannot possibly be down to her discovering her husband in flagrante delicto with Bruto, since the latter was aged only three at the time of Cosimo’s birth, having been born in San Fiorenzo on 7 April 1639 (Famiglie Perugine by Arrigo Arrighi, ms. 1548 in the Biblioteca comunale Augusta, Perugia).
     Eight years of marital abstinence after the Grand Duke was caught with Bruto is much more likely than eighteen. That would make Bruto thirteen. He is not likely to have become the Grand Duke’s beloved much later than that, as his position in the latter’s life must have been clear to all by the time the Grand Duke had him painted as Ganymede, as shown on this webpage.
     So why then did Ferdinando II abstain from sex with his wife for the ten or so years before the upset over Bruto? Most likely, the story has just been muddled a bit. Having done his duty by begetting a healthy son and heir, Ferdinando, like most rulers of the time who had made political marriages, would almost certainly have felt free to pursue his natural inclinations, in his case likely meaning sex with boys rather than his wife. Her discovery of him with Bruto ten years later, would then have simply confirmed a hitherto perhaps vaguer status quo, and maybe have led to a more than purely sexual rift.

[2] As will be seen, it is later mentioned that the two boys who had sex with each other and with the Grand Duke were his “red pages”. Presumably therefore the rank or function of a page determined the colour of his clothing. As it is stated that Bruto quitted being the Grand Duke’s page in order to become a black page, and this was a promotion rather than a demotion (since it happened due to his retaining his master’s favour), the implication would seem to be that a only red page was a personal page to the Grand Duke, and a black page was some kind of more important state functionary.
     It cannot be right that Bruto was nearly as old as 36 when he stopped being the Grand Duke’s page, since he was only 31 when his master died, and he had risen to become Treasurer of the Grand Ducal chambers, a rank much above page, well before then. 36 would anyway be absurdly old for a 17th-century page. Perhaps 16 was meant.

[3] The precise meaning of “nelle due ore di notte”, translated here as “at two in the night” is mysterious.

[4] The expression in quotation marks means the girl was not actually fucked by Barberini, as Constantinople metaphorically was by the Turks when they assaulted and successfully penetrated the city in 1453.

[5] The phrase translated here as “severely chastised” is “severamente gastigati con un nervo”. Itisnot clear to this translator what “con un nervo” adds to the meaning. If any reader can explain it, the editor would be grateful to hear from him.



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