In the late 1600s, Tuscany - and particularly Florence - had already been for two centuries a global hub of invention, arts and culture. The Medici rulers of the Tuscan state have gone down in history as ruthless and notorious rulers, but ironically as patrons of some of the most influential thinkers in history, including Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Galileo. However, one of the lesser known inventors sponsored by the Medici family was Bartolomeo Cristofori, the musical genius who invented the piano, right at the Pitti Palace.
Cristofori was born in Padova and was already inventing unusual instruments like the upright harpsichord by the time he was spotted by Fedinando de' Medici (Grand Prince of Tuscany) during a visit to Venice. Ferdinando was an avid musician and lover of the arts, who was looking to employ a person to maintain his large collection of instruments at the Pitti Palace. Once he took on Cristofori and began to value the man's genius qualities, the Grand Prince granted him a large annex to the palace to use as an invention studio. It was here that Cristofori experimented and improved on keyboards he had previously conceptualized and eventually led to the invention of the piano in the year 1700.
The popularity of the piano wasn't an instant success, however. It wasn't until 1711 when a review of the instrument by an Italian critic was translated into German that the new invention started to be noticed in northern Europe, and instrument-makers began to improve on the original design. By the mid 1700s, the piano was perfected and began to take off in popularity when musicians like Bach and eventually Mozart composed pieces that would immortalize the instrument.
Only three original Cristofori pianos are in existence today, and can be found in Rome, Leipzeig and at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.