Lorenzo de Medici Historical Profile

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LORENZO DE MEDICI Historical Profile
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Name: Lorenzo di Piero de Medici
Born: 1 January 1449
Home town: Florence
Died: 9 April 1492
Position: First Citizen, de facto duke, ruler of the Republic of Florence
House of: Medici and Tornabuoni (mother)
Nickname: Lorenzo il Magnifico
Personality type: confident, brilliant, intellectual, expert diplomat
Famous for: Considered by many historians to be the main patron of the later Italian Renaissance, which peaked during his rule, famous for his diplomatic skill and statesmanship
Strength(s): well-loved by the citizens, rich and influential, clever politician
Weakness(es): unsuccessful banker, the Medici fortunes diminished substantially during his rule

"...it must be the true office of all men to serve the human race in whatever degree they find themselves placed, either by heaven or by nature or by fortune."
- Lorenzo de Medici (Commentary on My Sonnets, (trsl. Cook, p.33)

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Like his father Piero (and grandfather Cosimo, pictured below right), Lorenzo did not rule Florence as an hereditary prince. He did, however, make use of the rules and polices of the republic to engineer a legitimate primacy, that ultmately became hereditary de facto, though still under the guise of republicanism until the 1550s. Lorenzo's power and influence helped shape the pre-Italian Wars political status quo of the Italian peninsula, and his ideas and political ties helped keep the states in an uneasy peace. After Lorenzo's death in 1492, Savonarola gained influence in the government, and the French Invasion of 1494 caused his son Piero to unwisely give in to Charles VIII's demands and submit to their passing through Tuscany en route to the conquest of Naples. As a result of Piero's policies, the people of Florence drove the Medici out in 1494, and reinstated the 2nd Republic and elected a gonfaloniere (like a doge), lasting until 1512.
Cosimo de Medici "Pater Patriae" by Bronzino
Lorenzo was born in Florence on 1 January, 1449 to Piero "the Gouty" - son of Cosimo "Pater Patriae" de
Medici - and Lucrezia Tornabuoni, daughter of the powerful Giovanni Tornabuoni, a rich Florentine banker. He was one of six children, and the oldest son. Lorenzo and his siblings were raised in the imposing Palazzo Medici, in an atmosphere of vibrant commercial enterprise, art patronage, and humanist learning. His mother was a well-educated and benevolent co-ruler, and set a wise example for her son, who leaned heavily on her guidance as a young man learning the ways of a ruler. Both were accomplished poets. Lorenzo took power as the "first citizen" of Florence after his father's death in 1469. He was early on a very headstrong, confident youth, but as soon as he took power, he filled the role he was groomed for with ease and ability. He married Clarice Orsini in 1469, and had several children, the ones that survived infancy and childhood were Lucrezia, Piero, Maria Maddalena, Giovanni, Contessina Beatrice, and Giuliano. His elder sister Lucrezia (Nannina) married the influential banker Bernardo Rucellai. He and Clarice raised their nephew, Giulio, son of Giuliano, alongside their own children. He maintained a 'platonic' love affair with a married noblewoman, and dedicated hundreds of sonnets to her in his autobiographical work, Comenti dei mi sonetti (Commentary on My Sonnets).

Giuliano de Medici (small)Throughout his rule, Lorenzo established himself as supreme, by subtle means and secretive business agreements. Other Florentines were jealous of his power, and those who sought his downfall teamed up with other political enemies and orchestrated the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478), which succeeded in the murder of his brother Giuliano (pictured at left). Giuliano was brutally murdered at High Mass on Easter Sunday in Florence's cathedral (1478) by henchmen hired by his Pazzi enemies and Girolamo Riario, undoubtedly with consent of Pope Sixtus IV, to end Medici power in Florence. After the attempt on his life, he swiftly and brutally put down the renegades, assassinated the culprits, and gathered power ever more closely to himself. His expert handling of the resulting Pazzi War bewteen the Pope and Naples and Florence, he gained prestige throughout Italy. Through this and other means he elevated his power, and by influencing votes and other policy, he solidified his princely status. For two more decades he ruled the Republic of Florence, increased territory by gaining Pisa, and generally sought to keep Italian peace by siding with other dukes against Venice, which at this time was expanding territory at the expense of Ferrara and Milan. His expert diplomacy was exhibited by his brave and dangerous mission to the King of Naples after the Pazzi Conspiracy, and to put an end to the ensuing Pazzi War (the Pope and Naples vs Florence), in which he won the respect and admiration of king Ferrante of Naples, thereby ending the war. Their resulting pact led to another era of peace among the most powerful states of Italy (Milan, Florence, Naples, Ferrara, and the Papacy) that ended with the French Invasion of 1494 and the death of old king Ferrante.

Lorenzo also cemented allegiances with marriage ties - as he did with the wedding of his daughter to the nephew/son of the next pope (Innocent VIII), and his sharing of humanist culture by encouraging artists to travel and work in Naples, Rome, and Milan - the other centers of the Italian Renaissance. He has been credited with being a foremost Renaissance prince, and praised by his contemporaries for his Machiavellian rule, intellectual ability, peaceful diplomacy (except maybe by the Pisans), and overall genuine affability. He encouraged the preacher Girolamo Savonarola to come to Florence, used the monte (public debt) for illegal means, and ultimately saw the start of the decline of Florence at his death in 1492.

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Sources/For Further reading

  • History of Italy (Francesco Guicciardini)
  • The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli)
  • The Autobiography of Lorenzo de Medici (translated and with preface by James Wyatt Cook))
  • The Courtier (Baldassare Castiglione)
  • The House of Medici (Christopher Hibbert)
  • April Blood (Lauro Martines)
  • The Montefeltro Conspiracy (Marcello Simonetta)
  • Magnifico (Miles Unger)
  • Florence and the Medici (JR Hale)
  • Italy in the Age of the Renaissance (Dennis Hay & John Law)
  • The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Jacob Burckhardt)
  • The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society (Peter Burke)

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