Tales Through Time: The Medici Family
Volume 4 Issue 2
January 16, 2024
Image provided by www.history.com
The Medici family was a prominent Italian banking and political family that strongly influenced Florence from the 15th to the 18th century, sponsoring artists and dominating Florentine culture. They were influenced by the wealth and importance of the burghers, who had a share in government. The Medici's rise was partly due to their involvement in civic affairs, particularly in the influential merchant guild.
The first Medici left their native Mugello around 1200 for Florence, where they made a living as merchants. Ardingo de' Medici became the prior of the Florentine merchant guild in the 1280s, leading to the elevation of other Medici to Florence's ruling council, the Signoria. Their financial acumen as bankers also contributed to their political power.
The true Medici dynasty began in 1360 with the birth of Giovanni di Bicci, who started his career in banking under the family name and rose to become a junior partner in the bank's branch in Rome. When his uncle retired in 1393, he was given control of the bank, securing the Medici name with a future of wealth and prosperity. Giovanni officially named and founded the Medici bank in 1397, handling the Church and branches' accounts as far as England. Despite his growing wealth and success, Giovanni worked hard to remain disconnected from the state and politics, choosing to pay fines rather than accepting positions of responsibility within the Florentine government.
The early 15th century saw the Medici ascend into the highest ranks of Florentine government under Cosimo, Giovanni’s son. However, Cosimo's chief rival, Rinaldo Degli Albizzi, tried to blame him for the war with Lucca. Despite his efforts, he was exiled to Venice in 1433, allowing Cosimo to return to Florence in strength. Cosimo's popularity with the populace and his family's bank allowed him to return a year later, crushing the Albizzi's hopes for dominance. Cosimo de' Medici, the leading citizen of Florence, managed state affairs for 30 years and was a shrewd politician who supported projects with his wealth and supporters. He took advantage of events that solidified his popularity, such as the Peace of Lodi in 1454. Cosimo's passion for religion and the arts is symbolized by the famous Florence Cathedral, or Duomo di Firenze, which allowed architect Brunelleschi to complete Florence's iconic dome. Cosimo's Elder, a prominent figure in the Medici family, was associated with Donatello's statue David and Fra Angelico's artistic masterpieces. He established the Platonic Academy, contributing to the family's investment in important buildings, art, and education. Under Cosimo de' Medici, the Medici ascendancy was assured.
Lorenzo de' Medici, known as "Lorenzo the Magnificent," ruled Florence from 1469 to 1492 and was as able an administrator as his grandfather. He married into the Orsini noble family, giving the Medici the support of aristocratic blood. Lorenzo's diplomacy helped secure Florence against enemies, gain new allies, and maintain his position. His success as a diplomat and politician allowed him to gain influence with the papacy, which relied on the Medici Bank for many years. His success as a diplomat and politician allowed him to gain influence with the papacy, which relied on the Medici Bank for many years. Giovanni, Lorenzo's son, became a cardinal and Pope Leo X. Michelangelo, who had found a patron in Lorenzo, began work on the Medici Chapel. Both Cosimo and Lorenzo patronized artists and humanist scholars, with Donatello and Michelozzo di Bartolommeo finding enthusiastic patrons. Lorenzo, a well-read poet, was known for sponsoring cultural pursuits and helping scholars locate and acquire ancient and medieval manuscripts.
The Medici believed in education and diligence. They used their talents to gain power, prestige, and influence, improving the quality of life, sponsoring cultural endeavors, and preventing foreign domination. The Medici produced two popes, one queen of France, and humanist statesmen like Lorenzo. Their accomplishments serve as prime examples of Renaissance ideals. The Medici's contributions to the Renaissance were evident in their long tenure as public figures, their importance to art history, and their intimate involvement in state affairs.