The Medici of Florence Jason N Wessels HST 403, Mr Reed Harris-Stowe State College, Spring 1998 1 Introduction The Medici Family ruled over Florence for four generations at the center of the Italian Renaissance. They commissioned some of the world's most celebrated works of art, and propelled Italian thought and philosophy to new heights. They began the first mass movement in Western Europe of examining the past, its antiquities and languages. Politically The Medici were influential and played a significant role in European politics until the 18 th century. The Medici were bankers, politicians, artists and philanthropists of the highest order.
They were celebrated by Florentines in their day and should be celebrated by us today for their contributions to the arts, ancient studies and politics. In the following pages the generations of The Medici will be examined. Their impact on art, politics, philanthropy and the humanities will be analyzed. The Medici's place in history will be assessed. And the debt that Western Civilization entire owes the Medici will made evident. 2 The Italian Renaissance To understand the Medici we must have at least a vague understanding of Renaissance Italy.
In the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries a great leap out of medieval thought into an era of increased social, educational and artistic awareness took place in Italy. Historians refer to this period as The Italian Renaissance. Renaissance in French means rebirth, in this case it means a rebirth in knowledge and learning. The Italian Renaissance grew out of great economic and political changes. The Feudal System was collapsing as urban areas were forming in Italy. With the formation of cities came the rise of a middle class, and an increase in mobility, and thus an increase in trade of both goods and ideas.
The middle class was made up of merchants and artisans, people of commerce. For the first time in Europe middle class people wer ruling. The Borgia, Sforza, and Medici were all prominent families in Italy. These were not families with centuries of traditions as leaders. These were bankers and merchants who rose to power, with the consent of many people in their regions, if not the majority.
The Church was a source of great anxiety for the citizens of fourteenth century Italy. Davies sites the despondency of the members of the church and their spiritual development as reason for this revolution of thought. The rise of the middle class not only meant they would bear rulers, but meant they would have money and this money would turn toward the commissioning of art, and the collection and study of pagan antiquities. For the first time in a millennium artists turned away from religious subjects. They focused on regular people, not saints or deities or churchmen, influenced by classic Greek and Roman art. Artists such as Michelangelo, Boticelli, Raphael and many artists broke the chains that had held artists nameless for centuries before.
3 They produced art many with religious themes, but with an emphasis on humanity and reality and the possible perfection and beauty of the human form. Art before this time was more representational than realistic. Intellectual activities also turned towards classic studies. The Greek language made a revival and studies of ancient writings were reinstituted. The formation of libraries and organizations to understand, collect and preserve these writings was wide spread.
Even the Church participated with the founding of the Vatican Library. Which to this day is the definitive source of written antiquities. Political science as a discipline was invented. Machiavelli introduced new themes to the world. The idea that a good prince is one who gets done what needs be done by any means necessary, is one that had probably been practiced since the beginning of time, but no one was observant, or had enough gall to say such things. Secular literature also became prominent.
Writers such as Dante, Petrach, and Boccacio introduced secular works to the West. Dante's Divine Comedy introduced the Tuscan as the dialect of the scholarly world. Both Dante and Petrach were greatly influenced by Vergil. Dante even chose to use Vergil as guide through the layers of Hell in his greatest work. All three men greatly admired the Greek writings and ideas. The Greek's interest in science also made its way to Renaissance Italy.
The era's greatest scientific thinker was probably Leonardo da Vinci. Many of his ideas were so advanced and antiestablishment he was greatly criticized. He had to keep secret many of his ideas and findings for fear of persecution. Another historic change was a seriuos interest in past events, and a concentrated effort to maintain the written historical record of the Western world. This is a very old idea throughout most of the world. In the Middle East, Alexandria was a center for libraries of ancient writings.
The Chinese collected works of past dynasties. Also collecting the artifacts of the Ancient Greeks and Ro 4 mans became popular. Expeditions to Greece and the Greek Isles to purchase these articles were common. The Crusades sent people across the lands to the East to the ive and plunder. The Italians sent people East to buy the antiquities or people came to them with the antiquities in hopes of selling them. There was no physical fight, simply business transactions.
For Western Europe these were all firsts. The most significant change the Renaissance brought about was the advance of critical thought and education. More people were educated in Italy than in any time in the past. Education opened the doors for an increase in free thinking. This free thinking caused people to examine their lives, and the most blatant problem they saw was religion. They saw themselves believing on faith and this was no longer acceptable.
People started to ask why. They also saw how the church had kept them under its pious thumb and been itself corrupt. Western Culture did not turn its back on religion, but it no longer was the dominant factor in their lives. In the centuries to come the advance in knowledge would result in the protestant reformation. The Reformation went almost nowhere in Italy, but the ideas Italians bore spread north. It is said that Italians are like a stone in the water.
Remove the stone, break it in two and the center is dry. The Italians for centuries have been surrounded by the church, but the church cannot penetrate the Italian people. This trend started with the Renaissance. At the forefront of these changes was the city of Florence, and leading Florence was The Medici. Their financial gifts and passion for all aspects of the humanities were invaluable for the promotion of Renaissance Culture. 5 Giovanni di Bicci de Medici Giovanni was born in 1360, the son of a middle class banker.
His father was reasonably successful, Giovanni took his business to the top of the industry. By 1400 he was even banker to the Papacy, and in 1429, the year he turned his family business over to his son Cosimo, the Medici Family was the wealthiest in Florence. The whole of Florence was under the thumb of a family called Albizzi. Giovanni was content with living under the Albizzi.
He simply wanted to continue to make money and live "inconspicuously." Giovanni even went so far as to be their Gonfalonier of Justice. He was their puppet and content to be so as long as he continued to amass a greater fortune. Giovanni was Florence's most generous patron of the arts. He began a tradition of collecting and commissioning of art that would become a trademark of the Medici family for generations. It is as a judge in a contest for design of the bronze doors of The Baptistry in Florence that Giovanni is first mentioned in historical record. Three artists were up for the commission, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi and Que rcia.
Giovanni cast the deciding vote and judged for Ghiberti. Young Ghiberti created the bronze doors with a depth and realism that had not been seen before in a relief work. Brunelleschi was so desponded when his design was not chosen he quit bronze relief and moved to architecture. He went on to become the greatest architect of his age, possibly Italy's finest archi 6 text ever.
Giovanni commissioned many works, mostly statues of saints by Donatello and Ghiberti. These statues were put in his gardens and anonymously given to churches and chapels. Although Giovanni donated art anonymously, word of his generosity spread and he quickly, but quietly became one of Florence's most respected and popular sons. Cosimo de Medici In 1429 at the age of forty Cosimo de Medici took over the family business from his father. Cosimo was not content to quietly allow the Albizzi family to run Florence.
Shortly after Giovanni's death, Cosimo entered politics at the request of some members of the city council. Most citizens in Florence were unhappy with the Albizzi clan and looked to Cosimo as their leader. He had the financial means, the courage and a reputation of honesty. The Albizzi had the electoral process fixed, and Cosimo's first attempt to oust them failed.
Cosimo was exiled to Venice in 1433. Cosimo had assumed his first attempt to gain control of Florence would fail, so he sent a large sum of money to Venice knowing that was where he would be sent. He knew he would be sent to Venice through the same city council contacts who urged him to face Albizzi. When he arrived he was greeted like a king. In return for the Venetian's affection he rebuilt the library and monastery of San Giorgio. One year later he returned to Florence and was the cities new unofficial political leader.
Although he ran the city for thirty-six years, he ruled officially for only six months. In spite of his obvious total control of the political system no Florentine would ever admit to living in a undemocratic 7 system. Cosimo was beloved by the Florentines. They even went so far as to call him Pater Patria e, which is Italian for Father of Our Country.
Cosimo was the first prominent secular patron of the arts in Italy. Giovanni di Bicci had commissioned works for himself, but not on the grand scale that Cosimo would. He not only commissioned paintings and sculptures, but chapel and libraries, and he filled these buildings with some of the most magnificent works of the modern world. Cosimo promoted secular art.
Before him, the only art produced in mass quantities was of religious subject, and arts only consistent patron was the church. Cosimo was most proud of his advances in humanistic studies, especially The Platonic Academy and Marsilio Ficino. The Platonic Academy was a dream of Cosimo's. It would be an educational institution for the promotion of the thought and understanding of the Greeks lifestyles and philosophies. The first "think tank" of the western world. Its chief scholar would be Ficino.
The Medici through Piero would be his benefactors. The plan was to groom him with the best scholars from Greece and the Near East to head up the Academy and foster its growth from the scholarship end while the Medici financed the project. Cosimo also supported many artists' work. Brunelleschi, Donatello, Pisano and Fra Angelico are only of few of the countless artists he employed. All of the chapels, libraries, monasteries, palaces, cottages and other public buildings constructed under the Medici name were adorned with fine art, and the architecture itself was a fine art. Cosimo had such a passion and respect for the artist and the work he produced, he even pensioned some of the artists in their later years.
8 The artist Vasari relays this story about Donatello, who had been given a small farm in the Mug ello region. Before a year had gone by following Cosimo's bequest, the old sculptor appeared at the door of the Medici palace to ask that the farm be taken back. He could not keep it, he said, because the peasant who worked it gave him no peace. One day he showed up with a complaint that the wind had blown down the dove-coat, on another that the government had shown up and seized his cattle for back taxes, and on still another that a storm had ruined his vines and olive trees. A small cash annuity, he let it be modestly inferred, was infinitely preferable. Cosimo granted his request.
This account is to establish the amount of respect this man, Cosimo, had for artists and their ways. Donatello was extraordinarily ungracious and arrogant, but Cosimo overlooked it because of his admiration for Donatello's artistic skill. Piero de Medici and his son, Lorenzo Cosimo died of many ills, im particularly gout, in early 1464 after a long and successful reign as boss, for lack of a better word, of Florence. If there was any doubt about whether or not the Medici family controlled the political system in Florence, Piero was a clincher. He was not a poor ruler, he was not a foolish ruler, he was at best an unexceptional ruler. The Florentines referred to him as Il Gottoso.
Translated to English Il Gottoso means "The Gouty." It's a bad thing when a group calls your father "Father of Our Country" and the best they can do for you is "The Gouty." If his father's name had not been Cosimo De Medici, he never would have come to power. He did however have a great mind for finance and continued to grow the Medici fortunes. 9 Piero continued the Medici an tradition of patronage of art and scholarship. He as his father before him, was a bibliophile and bought many books for his personal collection and for public libraries his father had built. Piero continued to fund the scholarship of Marsilio Ficino and the Platonic Academy as well as the who's who in Italian Renaissance artists.
The most prominent may have been Fra Angelico. Fra Angelico was making great advances in the painting of the human form. His work was the predecessor of the artists of the High Renaissance, such as, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and others who perfected the human form on fresco, canvas and in stone and metals. Soon after Piero's son, Lorenzo, came of age he began helping his father in every way possible. In 1466 there was a plot to murder Piero. Not through military force, but through cunning and wit, Lorenzo himself quashed the attempt.
It was at this time his father thrust him upon Italy's political canvas. Piero, seeing his own life coming to an end, immediately sent Lorenzo on a political tour of Italy, not on official visits, but to simply introduce himself to the Monarchs of Northern Italy. Lorenzo was greeted in each nation he visited as if he were a monarch. Lorenzo was so impressive, and reports of his tour were so positive, that upon his return Piero sent him off to Rome to meet the Pope.
The regions of Italy were lobbying the Pope for support with attacks to be launched against other regions, Tuscany im particular. Lorenzo stopped the Pope from participating in any such activity. It was clear to all that Lorenzo was a gifted politician, and even though he was very young had the poise and charisma of a man twice his age. Under his reign Florence would experience its golden age. But before the golden age there would be a struggle and an attempt to balance the powers in Florence. 10 Lorenzo and his war with the Pazzi About ten years into Lorenzo's rule there was a chain of events that lead to a war between Tuscany and the Papal States.
It all began with the Pazzi stealing the Papal accounts from the Medici bank. They did not take the money or hold up a bank, but the Pazzi influenced The Pope, Sixtus IV, to switch his money to their bank. Lorenzo retaliated resulting in an attempt on his life, in which his brother Giuliano, not Lorenzo, was murdered. Machiavelli recounted the following: April 26, 1478: The murderers being ready, each in his appointed station, which they could retain without an suspicion, on account of the vast number assembled in the church, the preconcerted moment arrived and Bernardo Banding, with a short dagger struck Giuliano in the breast, who after a few steps, fell to the earth.
Francesco de Pazzi threw himself upon Giuliano and covered him with wounds; whilst, as if blinded by rage he inflicted a deep incision upon his own leg. Antonio de Pazzi and Stefano the priest attacked Lorenzo, and after dealing many blows, effected only by a slight incision in the throat; for either their want of resolution, the activity of Lorenzo, who, finding himself attacked, used his arms in his own defense, or the assistance of those by whom he was surrounded, rendered all attempts futile. They fled... The attempt on Lorenzo's life and the death of his brother met with immediate and severe consequences for the perpetrators. The assassins expected the city of Florence to rise up in support of them. They could not have been more sadly mistaken.
A shopkeeper Luca Landucci recounts the days following in his journal, "[Florence] was up in arms, in the piazza and the Lorenzo de Medici house. And numbers of men on the side of the conspiritors were killed in the piazza, amongst others a priest... The next day they hung [more conspire 11 tors including] Jacopo de Pazzi and Renato de Pazzi... some boys disinterred [the body of Jacopo] and dragged it through Florence by the piece of rope that was still proud its neck." It is said that the children played with it for some twenty days then threw it in the river, and the whole of Florence gathered and cheered as they watched the body of Jacopo de Pazzi float away. Over seventy conspiritors met their maker because of the death of one Medici. Not only were many of the Pazzi men killed, but there name was erased from public record, streets once named in their honor were changed, and their family coat was removed from everywhere Florence it once hung proudly.
The War then escalated to include the Papal States. It was a fight over Otranto, Tuscany's gate to the Adriatic and trade to the east. The Papacy went so far as to withdraw from Florence. In this era of increased humanistic study, there was still nothing that could have demoralized a city as much as removing the church.
Eventually, Lorenzo had to conceded in late 1479. In August of 1480 the Turks landed at Otranto and put the city in peril. Pope Sixtus immediately called on Florence to help, and removed the heretical taint he had branded them with. The ended any problems between Sixtus IV and Florence and The Medici. The Italians banded together and fought off the Muslim Turks, Florence was granted Otranto.
Lorenzo the Magnificent Florence experienced an age of economic growth and prosperity it had never seen before, nor has seen since. In the years befor the Pazzi War, Florence was the center of the commercial world. Trade with Britain and the world boomed. Florentines were proud of their city's success as well they 12 should have been.
It was born not only from the Medici, but of the hard work of the people themselves. A merchant Benedetto Dei expressed these sentiments in a letter to a Venetian friend: Florence is more beautiful and five hundred forty years older than your Venice. We spring from triply noble blood. We are one-third Roman, one third Frankish and one-third Fie solan...
We have round about thirty estates... yielding us yearly bread and meat, wine and oil, vegetables and cheese, hay and wood, to the value of nine hundred thousand ducats in cash, as you Venetians, Genoese, Chins, Rhodian's who come to buy them know well enough. We have two trades [wool and silk] greater than any four of yours put together. Florence remained on the cutting edge of the art world. Michelangelo was a part time resident of Florence and house guest of Lorenzo for four years. Although Lorenzo would die before Michelangelo did his most famous work.
The Magnificent saw something in his early work that made him want to see Michelangelo blossom. The one artist who without a doubt did his greatest works under Lorenzo's patronage was Boticelli. The artist's Birth of Venus, Mars and Venus, and Return of Spring were all commissions by Lorenzo and some of the best examples of pure High Italian Renaissance art. These works are classic in subject, boisterous in color and show man at his physical epoch.
High Renaissance art is supposed to do just that, show man and color that are beyond any perfection that humans know. The organizations in the twentieth century that complain about women and their depiction in magazines and in other media would have really had something to complain about had they been in Florence during the Renaissance. Lorenzo also continued funding schools of thought and philosophy and libraries. 13 The years of prosperity did not last.
The Medici bank declined under Lorenzo through not so much neglect, but over-delegation of power. The Medici had branches across Italy in Rome, Venice, Milan, Naples and Pisa and internationally in London, Bruges, Geneva, Lyon, Basel and Avignon. And the vast banking empire was too large to control. The biggest single blow was when the Papacy denied its debt. This forced the branches in Milan, Venice and Avignon to close. Author Charles Mee put it this way: What Lorenzo had discovered is what the banking families of a century or two before had discovered-the inherently vicious circle in Renaissance business.
Wealth brings political power; political power brings oblig a- tions to support foreign leaders... and support of political leaders is a risky business that brings bankruptcy. The circle is complete. Florence, as the banking capital, began to fall. In 1400 there were seventy one banks in Florence, by 1500 only seven banks remained. It was a reflection of the city it once was.
Patronage of the arts stalled. Florence was in financial peril. Lorenzo was the scapegoat. He was charged with rumors of embezzlement. Nothing could have been further from the truth. No family had given more to the community of Florence before or since.
In addition to the arts, libraries and other philanthropic projects of the family. The Medici was expected to host heads of state and church leaders and fund wars at home and abroad. The money was rarely if ever reimbursed. Lorenzo died and a small, simple service was held. He was buried with his father and grandfather and brother. 14 George Young, author of The Medici quotes this in his Epilogue, "Florence has not repaid the generous recognition to Lorenzo which he himself gave to others." Piero II The Unfortunate Piero was Lorenzo's oldest son whose reign lasted only months.
Many blamed his short reign on inexperience or his lack of charisma and common sense. However, even Lorenzo the Magnificent could not have handled Charles VIII of France and his military might closing in on Tuscany from the west. Piero was fearful for his city and went to negotiate with Charles at his camp. Piero offered military assistance if he would bypass Florence, but Charles refused. Charles counter offered assistance, Pisa and fortresses at Sar zana, Sarzanello, Ripafratta and Pietra santa.
Seeing the military superiority of Charles for himself, and knowing Charles had already captured three of the four fortresses, Piero conceded. While Piero was away the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, was besmear ching his name. Sforza was spreading rumors about Piero selling out to Charles and France. And Florence would not tolerate a traitor. The Florentines rebelled against The Medici as they had against Pazzi four decades earlier.
There was a four thousand florin bounty put on the head of Piero. Piero fled to Bologna, then to Venice and finally to Rome where the family would remain for generations, including two Popes, Leo X and Clement VII. 15 Conclusion Alexander Dumas says this about the Medici: "Let the Medici rest in peace in their tombs of marble and porphyry; for they have done more for the glory of the world than any prince, king or empower." While most rulers of the time left nothing and did nothing but promote their own personal causes and their own personal fortunes, The Medici left a legacy; institutions of learning, countless public buildings throughout Tuscany, a rebirth in the traditions of Ancient Greece and Rome, and some of the most beautiful and renowned works of art the world may ever see. To this day there is no monument, no recognition, or no plans to recognize the legacy of The Medici by the citizens of Florence, despite tourism being Florence's top source of income, and the number one attraction being the Ufizzi Gallery. The Ufizzi was built by Cosimo di Medici, and over two thirds of the art contained in it was commissioned by a Medici.
It is unfortunate how the Florentine's failed to recognize the gifts of this great family. The Medici chapels, libraries, galleries and villas stand as monument to the family. And this is probably how they would have wanted it. There own work, their own commissions to represent their place in history. This is the glory The Medici have; and this glory will not pass away.