| 12. The Seventeenth Century and the Last Medici
Ferdinando I (1587-1609) continued his father's policy and
succeeded in strengthening the grand duchy, maintaining a
difficult equilibrium between France and Spain. Signs of
decadence became more obvious under the government of these two
sons of Cosimo I's and were accellerated in the 17th century.
Florence was still a great city, but its territory was small and
it could certainly not compete with the great and powerful
centralized states. Economically the situation had also changed.
Trade and manufacturing were on the decline and, at least up to
the end of the 16th century, only banking was still carried out
on a European level, but in the end that too declined. The efforts of
the grand ducal governments to give new life to business by
developing the port of Livorno and the founding of the military
order of Saint Stephen for the protection of the Florentine navy
from the "barbareschi" were to no avail. On the
contrary agriculture grew in importance in Tuscany and in the
second half of the 16th century large reclamation projects were
undertaken in various parts of the region.
Ferdinando I was succeeded by the "weak and sickly"
Cosimo II (1609-1621) who died leaving the government in the
hands of his wife Maria Magdalena of Austria and his mother
Christine of Lorraine. In 1628, when the period of the regency
came to an end, Ferdinando II mounted the throne and reigned
until 1670. Even though he was reputed to be "among the best
of the Medici dynasty", he could do nothing to arrest the
inexorable decline of Florence and of the Tuscany of the grand
dukes. Nor could his successors, Cosimo III (1670-1723) and the
last of the Medici dynasty, Gian Gastone, who died without heirs
in 1737. Even so, as far as culture was concerned, the city, by
now condemned to a provincial role, still displayed a certain
vitality which expressed itself in the field of music
(melodramma, with the famous "Camerata
di casa Bardi", was born in Florence at the end of the
16th century) and in the phenomenon of the Academies. From the
late 16th century on and throughout the 17th century numerous
academies of pure literature came into being. The Accademia della
Crusca whose principal labor was the compilation of the
Dictionary, the first edition of which appeared in 1612, was
founded in 1582. Of great importance for the sciences was the
activity of the Accademia del Cimento, founded by Leopoldo de'
Medici in 1657 and sustained by his brother, the reigning
Ferdinando II. Both were pupils of Galileo, the only man of
genius the 17th century produced in the grand duchy.