Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

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The de' Medici Dynasty

History Italy

Marco Polo

Florence Art


Florencia Stationary

The family's history parallels Italy's history.  I've divided it into sections listed in the left column.

This concise history is a helpful guide to read before traveling to Florence and the Vatican.  



The de' Medici Dynasty and Italian History

The Late-Middle-Ages, Early Renaissance, Giovanni:  The Founder

The Early Renaissance, Cosimo and Lorenzo:  The Elders

The High Renaissance, Piero and his son, Lorenzo the Magnificent

Florentine Independence and the End of the Florentine Renaissance, Piero II and Lorenzo II in Exile

The Roman Renaissance, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and Pope Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici)

The End of Florentine Independence, Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici), Alessandro, and Caterina de' Medici

The Late Renaissance, The Grand Duke and Duchess of Tuscany:  Cosimo de' Medici and Eleonora di Toledo

The Age of Discovery, Francesco and Ferdinando:  Two Very Different Brothers

The Age of Reason and The Enlightenment, The Decline of de' Medici Reason and Enlightened Governance


The angel on the left is one of the earliest known works by Leonardo Da Vinci, painted on a work by his teacher, who then said he had nothing to teach the boy, but only to learn from him


Portrait of Cecilia by Leonardo Da Vinci, she's holding a pet ermine


Portrait of Ginevra Benci by Leonardo Da Vinci, lacking La Gioconda's smile, so she didn't become as famous


Botticelli's Primavera was painted to decorate a de' Medici palace, it was done before Botticelli became more religious in later life and dedicated himself to more devout works


Donatello's David was the famous David that all the artists studied in the de' Medici collection, Michelangelo spent hours drawing it and studying it, and only his David would become more famous


Florence's cathedral with Brunelleschi's famous dome, a view from above


Florence's cathedral with Brunelleschi's famous dome, a view from the side


Three images of Via Larga and the de' Medici palace





Botticelli's Annunciation


Botticelli's Virgin and child with angels


Botticelli's Virgin and child with Eight Angels


Detail of a painting by Botticelli that includes the de' Medici children meeting the Magi on their way to bring gifts to the Christ-child, family public relations and self-aggrandizement at it's best


Some whispery Botticelli angels



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The Early Renaissance

Cosimo and Lorenzo:  The Elders

Two of Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici's four sons died before he did.  But the remaining two sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo, would father what are called the senior and junior branches of the de' Medici dynasty

Cosimo (1389-1464), the elder brother, became head of the family business at the age of 48. 

Even before then, Cosimo had assisted his father in acquiring most of the 39 other banks in Florence at that time.  The principle remaining rival banks were run by the Florentine families

  • Strozzi
  • Pazzi
  • Acciaoli
  • Albizzi.

Cosimo De' Medici I : As a Young Man

Lorenzo (1395-1440) worked for the firm, and like his brother, was patron to many now-famous Renaissance artists who were just starting out on their artistic careers, including:

Lorenzo de' Medici, father of the junior branch of the family

The de' Medici commissions, along with those of the other wealthy families, fueled the early Renaissance of art, architecture and learning in Florence, making it the wonder of the known world.

Cosimo proved that he had inherited his father's business ability, but also had cunning political skills

Those skills showed themselves in 1430, when the factional Florentine government arrested Cosimo and evicted his family from Florence out of fear of their growing power and political involvement, a fear fueled by a rival business family, the Albizzi. 

Cosimo bribed his way out of jail, escaped Florence with his family, and remained in exile for a year. 

Within a year, Cosimo secured the backing of the Pope, and threatened to remove his family and business from Florence for Venice.  The Signoria, the town council, relented and let the de' Medici return

The political instability, always bad for business, convinced Cosimo to use his political skills to further his power to stabilize the Florentine political scene

He pushed through legislation via representatives he controlled in the Signoria, that concentrated power more and more in his hands

He also saw to it that many of the de' Medici rivals in politics and business were either banished and their property confiscated, or the family was deprived of political power. 

Besides using his power to create stability in Florence, Cosimo used it to bring a truce between Milan and Venice and to keep out foreign powers who were tempted to take over the rich Italian city-states. 

Cosimo earned for himself the position of Gran Maestro of Florence, which was a title given to the unofficial head of the city-state. 

Cosimo became a relatively benevolent dictator for the next 60 years or so, ruling from behind the official representative.  His descendents would find it very difficult to repeat this success.

During his long rule over Florence, Cosimo dedicated much time to embellishing his city-state.  He was convinced that Florentine politics was too volatile for his family to remain in power for very long, and wished to leave the family's mark on the city while he could with buildings and art, always decorated with the family crest, and if possible with images of family members. 

Cosimo especially supported the artists:

One of his most famous and visible commissions was to Brunelleschi for the Dome atop the Cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria dei Fiori, finished in 1436. 

Cosimo also had work continue on the decoration of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, and had works done on the Church of San Marco, and the facade of Santa Maria Novella.

Cosimo commissioned a palace, designed and built by the architect Michelozzo, for the family on Via Cavour, then Via Larga.  He rejected a larger and fancier design saying it would only provoke envy. 

The design he had built included open porticos and benches on the street sides for the public to enjoy.  His public relations skills were smoother than his ostentatious descendents.


Medici palace after the portico was closed in for protection from mobs

When the Palace was completed, Cosimo's immediate family moved in and he gave the medieval houses on that same street to the children of his brother Lorenzo who died in 1440 at the age of 45.

Via Larga, now further developed and embellished by the de' Medici, and lived in by many of their important employees, played host to many processions over the years

Via Larga means the wide street, and it was wider than the medieval streets that still dominated in Florence, so important processions were possible there. 

Over the years, the squares would open up to become piazzas, and some streets would widen to to become prestigious avenues.  The de' Medici always had a hand in these changes, and always sponsored public events and processions for the entertainment of the people of Florence.


In the 1450s, Cosimo had Michelozzi re-build the medieval Castello del Trebbio into Villa Del Trebbio.  Today it is privately owned, and the estate produces grapes and olives.  Vacation properties are situated in villas nearby with views on the castle.  Tours are by appointment only.

Villa Del Trebbio

Cosimo died in 1464 at the age of 75 at Villa Careggi.  His political skills, artistic patronage, and financial prowess earned him the posthumous title of Pater Patriae, meaning 'father of the country', from the Florentine city-state.

Cosimo De' Medici 1518

Medallions were made with the image of Cosimo and his title.  This is a custom that continued with his later relations.  The family seemed to like having not only their portraits painted but portraits of people wearing their medallions.  Self promotion goes along with power

This is supposedly Botticelli's brother, the designer of the medallion, and the medallion itself is not painted on but an actually medallion pressed into the gesso base while it was still wet.

Portrait of a Man Holding a Medallion of Cosimo

Here's a link to a biography of Cosimo de' Medici, if you want to read more.



To the next section:

The High Renaissance, Piero and his son, Lorenzo the Magnificent