An extremely formal and educational flyer or whatever
MEET THE MEDICI
However it wasn't all money, politics and other things like that with the Medici. They supported the arts and humanities of Florence which essentially marked the beginning of the Renaissance. So yeah, you've got these guys to thank and/or blame for your project.
Also they had a couple of popes, so that's always fun.
Overview of the Medici
Where did they come from?!
Apparently from peasantry
Originating from the Tuscan countryside, in the twelfth century, the Medici family up and decided to move to Florence where they begun to get filthy rich from banking, commerce and trade which soon led led to political power. In the thirteenth century, the family peaked at political power (at the time) by having a guy from their family in political office. Yippee. Later though, perhaps due to their humble countryside beginnings, their political motives and future seemed to be intertwined with the common folk, a.k.a. not the wealthy, by the fourteenth century. This turned out to be true, when Salvestro de' Medici led a revolt with the common people against the government controlled by the rich folk in 1378. However, the government which Salvestro created fell in 1381 which led to the Medici saying "screw it" and essentially disappeared from the political scene until the end of the century when Giovanni de' Medici decided "why not let's get back in".
Let's help start a revolution!
As is probably already well known, Florence is considered to be the birthplace of Renaissance. During this period and a small period of time prior to the period, the Medici family was involved heavily in politics and despite not being in government, essentially controlled Florence from behind the scenes. The Medici's wealth and connection to the common folk, made the family very popular at the time with the lower/middle class but at the same time pissed off the wealthy. However, what made the Medici even more popular was the use of the money they got from taxes (as well as some of their own) to help jumpstart and give momentum to the cultural revolution as you may know as the Renaissance. The Medici family is often attributed to being one of the main factors of starting the revolution, due to their extremely generous donations and financial support to artists, art and architecture and actively participating in the development of the city, culture and education. Each member of the family achieved different things in the end but each contributed greatly to the Renaissance in some way or another. Specific achievements will be detailed in the actual people section.
A tale of conspiracy, death and the power of friendship
Fun, fun, fun
As with all rulers, the Medici faced numerous plots and conspiracies against them. Cosimo de' Medici faced an plot in an attempt to execute him for a falsely-accused crime. However using the power of money and government, he escaped with only exile and would come back to crush his opponents with the power of taxes. Lorenzo de' Medici faced an assassination attempt in which his brother was killed but he escaped with a mere neck wound. The people rallied with Lorenzo, keeping him in power and led to the executions of his assassins and the removal of power for their families. In both cases, however, the Medici used their popularity and wealth to their advantage to escape death and ruin. With their popularity, it appeared that the Medici in rule was a thing that the wealthy just had to live with.
But all things eventually come to an end and the Medici rule was no different.
Friends are stupid anyways
Yeah who needs 'em
Lorenzo was a great guy, no really, you can see for yourself later. However he was more interested in the arty art stuff and less so on the boring stuff like politics and the family business. As a result, when Lorenzo died the only thing that kept the Medici family in power was their popularity of their rule and their connection to the people. So what happens when the only thing keeping you rule involves your family being liked being liked and then the next guy in line is a total jacka-...a violent, arrogant and overall unlikable guy?
You lose the only thing you've got going for you, that's what. When Lorenzo's son Piero came into power, he lacked the financial and political support of his predecessors and his personality wasn't all that great, especially considering he came after Lorenzo de' Medici, who was literally called "The Magnificent".
The Beginning of the End
Greatness ends with not-so greatness
The Medici would return in time though, as it turns out Savonarola was somehow a worse leader than Piero was. He rose to power after the French decided to mosey on down south and begun to instill laws and codes that nobody could get behind. Plus, he didn't listen to the Pope, which is kinda important if your a leader who's also a priest. Eventually, the people would ditch Savonarola and he would then be executed and send Florence into anarchy.
Nice job bud.
Eventually the Medici returned after Piero's death and the French getting kicked out by the Spanish, the Medici were put back into power. However none of the Medici members who followed would ever match the greatness of their ancestors. Most either did nothing remarkable and were weak or ineffective in their rule or was that one guy who decided he'd rather be a pope. It was not until Cosimo I (not to be mistaken with Cosimo: Pater Patrie) where the Medici even slightly tasted the glory of the past. However, despite Cosimo being a highly cultured man and maintained stability, he was a ruthless politician and put the entire nation of Tuscany into absolute rule by the Medici. This, of course, didn't exactly make him the most popular guy around. But even then, this would all be for naught as the men who followed Cosimo reverted back to the Lorenzo-Cosimo I period and were weak and ineffective leaders.
This would culminate in Gian-Gastone who had no male heir and with his death, the death of the House of the Medici would come too.
Why should I give a $#/+?
Despite having a less than remarkable end, the Medici achieved one of the greatest cultural revolutions only rivaled by Athens' happy fun times in the Golden Age. While in control, the Medici were among the first rulers to take into account the importance of art and culture. They, as you've most definitely read, were one of the most defining contributers to the beginning and development of Renaissance and helped push Florence to become the cultural centre at the time, some people even consider them to be the reason there is a Renaissance in the first place.
However, Medici did more than just allow cultural development but they also were characterized by different approaches and methods which are more parallel to modern times than what the Medici family's time usually was like. The Medici demonstrated the power of wealth, business and trade as a means to establish Florence as the centre business connections with other countries which would eventually lead to Florence becoming the centre of ideas. By allowing different perspectives, viewpoints and ideas flourish in Florence it allowed the cultural revolution to thrive but also migrate to other countries, regions and cities and encourage cooperation, collaboration and a better understanding of other cultures among the regions involved.
The Medici Family
The guy who helped start the dynasty and Renaissance - Giovanni de' Medici (a.k.a. di Bicci)
Let's start with the guy who started it all. So he first started out as a simple ol' apprentice for his uncle VIERI. Soon after that an agent, then a junior partner, then in 1393, VIERI retired and our friend di Bicci became head of the ol' family business. In 1397, he moved the HQ to Florence but the core of the business was still in Rome. Di Bicci did so well his bank became the leading bank in Italy and the rest of Europe and until the end of the Council of Constantine, the Bank of Medici monopolized the financial transactions between Italy and all of Europe.
But di Bicci wasn't done yet even though he cemented the economic power of the Medici. In the early fifteenth century, he decided "Hey let's go into politics*". He was elected several times for the prestigious position of Prior of the Banker's Guild known as the Arte del Cambio, went several times to Rome and Venice as an ambassador, was governor of Pistoia and a bunch of other political positions. Giovanni de' Medici pretty much held or was in every single office in Florence at some point or another. However, di Becci was pretty much given these positions since he was a popular and modest guy even though he generally stayed out of civil conflicts and he was like "Oh thank you, I will happily and modestly accept these public office positions as personal honours or something and totally don't have ambitions in politics or whatever*". (he did)
So not only did Giovanni de' Medici lay the foundation for the rise of the Medici he helped begin the cultural revolution (keyword: begin) which we're all required to study.
He's not so great is he?
Giovanni was an essential player in rise of the Medici. Through his efforts and skill, he helped the Renaissance actually begin after his death and already begun to establish Florence as a cultural hot spot through the support he gave to develop the architecture and allow artists such as Donatello and Dello Delli to retain their jobs. In addition to this, he effectively lay the key pieces for the House of the Medici to become a force to be reckoned with while also retaining the support of the public.
But rather than focus on what he did for the future, what did Giovanni do for the present. The main thing he did was use his wealth for the people and the city rather than for himself. This opened up the avenue for foreign relations through finance and trade rather than military alliances and allow different cultures to influence each other. However this hasn't been unseen prior to the Renaissance, but what Giovanni did allowed the cultural revolution to soon start and encouraged for more friendly relations between the different countries and regions with Italy and Florence, respectively.
The guy who actually started it - Cosimo de' Medici (A.K.A. Pater Patrie)
Standard to how these successor-family stuff usually works, Giovanni's son, Cosimo de' Medici, succeeded him after his death. Since Giovanni was being all successful, by his death, the large fortune he amassed supported the Medici's long after he kicked the bucket in 1429. Cosimo, being a good son and also wanting to be successful, effectively continued the family business and expanding it to trade with the East, loans to European princes et cetera et cetera.
Because he was all successful and rich and stuff, you would think he would party it up with other rich guys similar to him, right? Nope, Cosimo de Medici was more interested in supporting lesser guilds and the lower class and protecting them against the wealthy aristocrats who ruled the city. In addition to him being a more democratic type of guy, his popularity insinuated the jealousy and contempt of these aristocrats which led to Albizzi, an enemy of the Medici, as well other aristocrats falsely arresting Cosimo with the intention of his execution. However, fighting fire with fire, he bribed the guy in charge to lighten his sentence leading to exile.
A year later, when the government was more favourable, his exile was overturned and he returned with a vengeance. Using his wealth and power, he kept his political allies in government and controlled the domestic and foreign affairs of Florence. He reformed the tax system, which put a heavy burden on the wealthy (a.k.a. his enemies) which led to them liking him even less and becoming more popular with the lower and middle class. Even more so when Cosimo used the money, along with his own, to support public projects.
These projects included the design and construction of architecture, most of which design by the greatest artists of the time. He commissioned the construction of churches, monuments and other buildings which made Florence and overall prettier place. In addition to this, he imported ancient manuscripts from the east and got scribes to copy what he couldn't buy and put them all into different locations, all of which could be viewed by the public. In even more addition, he founded the Platonic Academy, a location dedicated to translating ol' Plato's works and ideas. In even even more addition, he funded great artists such as Donatello and Fra Fillipo Lippi. All in all, it's estimated he spent 600 000 gold florins on the arts, architecture and scholarly learning. Compared to the 180 000 gold florins left to him by his old man, that's a pretty big amount.
Despite him being an all-around incredible guy, he was modest, hard-working and was approachable by any Florentine. He was such a swell guy, that on his tomb, he was titled Pater Patrie or Father of his Country.
Also he did all of this without even being in government. What a guy, eh?
Well I hate my country and my father, why should I care?
Cosimo was a man of culture and a man for the people. Despite not being in government, Florence was clearly in his and the Medici' hands. His efforts helped allow for the birth of the Renaissance due to the massive support to the arts, architecture and education of the city. His importing of foreign manuscripts encouraged different viewpoints and allowed for different cultures and ideas to influence Florence. Cosimo's connection with the people gave the public power, albeit in some cases minor, and showed a positive relationship between the people and their rulers and how it could be used to further develop the city. Under Cosimo's rule the Renaissance begun, thrived and gained more and more momentum until the peak of Lorenzo's rule.
However, Cosimo's action also revealed corruption in the government and how his wealth and power, despite being a private citizen, could be used as a weapon or a tool. The exile was facilitated by a government official whom Cosimo bribed a hefty amount and in his return he used his new-founded power to crush the people who tried to get rid of him financially and took apart the houses of the families who opposed him. He did all of this and still garnered the support of the public because it was the rich who were hit. This showed clearly the contempt the wealthy and the common had for each other, in which they wealthy would try to kill a man who supported the people and the common revel in the rich's misery.
The guy who's not the next one in line but rather the guy after because nobody cares about the guy in between and this guy is considered to be amazing apparently - Lorenzo de' Medici (a.k.a. Il Magnifico)
Lorenzo was a cool guy, I mean look at his title “Lorenzo the Magnificent” so if you’re called that then you must be a pretty darn magnificent guy. Magnificent Lorenzo succeeded his father Piero (the not bad one), who succeeded Cosimo. But he wasn’t alone, his brother and partner-in-arms, Giuliano de’ Medici and both brothers inherited the political and financial power and legacy of their ancestors in 1469.
The brothers’ rule was going great but of course somebody had to ruin the fun. In 1478, the brothers suffered an assassination attempt by the Pazzi family, who were frustrated with the Medici as Lorenzo continuously halted their attempts at gaining more power. They teamed up with the Pope Sixtus IV, who was also frustrated since he’d rather his nephew be in power. During a Sunday Mass, the assassins struck. Giuliano was straight up shanked but Lorenzo escaped through a church side door. The Pazzi thought this was good enough and said “Hey guys, why not support us instead of them, “People and Liberty” am I right?”. Unfortunately (and unexpectedly) for the Pazzi, the people rallied against them and support the Medici. This error ended up bringing about a swift and brutal punishment, the conspirators were hanged to death. But this kinda stuff doesn't usually end perfectly. Aside from his brother being dead, the pope wanted revenge on Lorenzo since one of the hanged was the Archbishop of Pisa and demanded he come to Rome as a criminal. Lorenzo needed to act quickly, so he made the risky decision to appeal to the King of Naples for an alliance. This succeeded and Lorenzo retook Florence and the Papacy was unable to challenge him.
From this point onward, Lorenzo became the undisputed, unchallenged, unofficial ruler of Florence.
Under his new unchallenged reign, Lorenzo could start truly being magnificent. He supported the arts and humanities extensively, and in some cases created his own poetry which was praised by many poets at the time. His work along with the already popular Divine Comedy established the Tuscan dialect as the traditional dialect of Italy. In addition, similarly to his predecessor, Cosimo, Lorenzo imported and collected numerous Greek manuscripts and ancient texts which were stored in Pisa. These are merely a few examples of Lorenzo’s magnificence but all in all Magnificent Lorenzo’s work would cement Florence as the cultural capital of the Renaissance.
Lorenzo, being a magnificent man, was also able to recognize talent when he sees it. He promoted and supported artists he thought were magnificent like him such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Verrocchio. Also Leonarda da Vinci and Michelangelo, but nobody cares about those guys right? Lorenzo’s praise and support would cause common folk who were relatively unknown into celebrity status. He treated these men with the respect and support he believed they deserved. One storybook-esque, happily-ever after tale details that Magnificent Lorenzo saw the talent in Michelangelo at a young age and he essentially became part of the family, in which the fed and educated him and helped him to become the famous ninja tur-..artist he is now.
However there was one major flaw in Lorenzo’s ruling style: he focused too much on the cultural development of the city and artists. It may sound crazy but Lorenzo somehow managed to put too of his time into making Florence prettier and encouraging being all cultural and stuff that he neglected one of the main things that got him here. Lorenzo neglected the family business and was more interested in making Florence more independent from the rest of the world. This wouldn't come to bite back at him during his time but it would severely cripple his successors starting points.
Lorenzo? More like BORE...nzo..
Lorenzo wasn't called "the Magnificent" for nothing. During his rule, as with his ancestors, Florence fluorished as the cultural centre of beauty and development at the time. Lorenzo continued the work of Cosimo and Giovanni and encouraged the influence of other cultures and establishing the Florentine identity of the Renaissance. His work would also influence Italy as a whole through establishing it's place as a cultural country and providing it with it's traditional dialect. He also introduced the meritocracy system to the Renaissance in which he rewarded artist who he deemed worthy of support and praise. This system would allow great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to thrive and become cultural titans.
His rule is often considered to be peak of development and popularity of the Renaissance and the Medici, respectively. However at the same time, Lorenzo's rule marked the decline of the Medici family. His ineptitude and negligence of the Family business would cripple his successors and would open more holes in the Medici rule, culminating with losing the support of the people. In addition to this, in some brief periods he would isolate Florence and Tuscany from foreign powers in order to prevent their interference in Florence's political affairs. While this supports Lorenzo and his unchallenged rule, it would cause problems with his successors as they lacked the foreign support the Medici family often had. From this perspective, Lorenzo's rule was not magnificent due to the problems he would cause for future people.
Why do we care about the Medici?
The entrance of the Medici into the political and cultural sphere marked the beginning of the Renaissance. They were one of the main contributing factors of the cultural revolution and without them the Renaissance may have been much different than it is. In addition the efforts of each of the major members of the Medici each contributing different but at the same time similar aspects to the Renaissance. Giovanni laid the foundation and gave the necessary base both financially and culturally, Cosimo further developed the influence of foreign regions and begun to establish the Florentine status of a cultural centre and Lorenzo further developed the status while also providing Italy and Tuscany with its own identity in a cultural sense.
The Medici also presented the interwoven spectrum of politics and economics to culture and the arts. Through their success in the commerce and business it allowed them to enter the political scene and assist in the development of culture in the region. It should be kept in mind that the Medici were originally a peasant family, which showed how earning wealth and status easily translates into political and cultural power.
The Medici were overall an extremely influential group from the beginning of the Renaissance to its peak. Without their support, there may have not been a Renaissance and the cultural developments may have never existed or rather develop much later.
1) Were the Medici responsible for their own decline?
2) Was Magnificent Lorenzo actually magnificent?