Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



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















Visit my Italian History pages


The Roman Renaissance

Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and Pope Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici)

Lorenzo the Magnificent's other sons made their stamps on history, too. 

  • Lorenzo's son, the one he named for his brother Giuliano, became the Duke of Nemours
  • Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, who lived from 1475-1521, was already a Cardinal when he headed up the de' Medici army that retook Florence, and became the next Pope after the death of Julius II, taking the name Pope Leo X. 
  • Giuliano's son, Giulio, adopted by Lorenzo, was a priest while running the army with his cousin, and was later made a Cardinal, and still later became Pope Clement VII.  Giulio lived from 1478 to1534. 

In those days, Cardinal appointments were purchased by wealthy families for their minor sons.  It was not a sign of religiosity, as the number of children fathered by Cardinals and Popes at that time demonstrates.

All the de' Medici were famous patrons of artists and architects, many of whom did both, like Raphael who built a palace for Cardinal Giulio de' Medici in Rome, and took over the building of the new St. Peter's for Pope Leo X.

Panorama of St. Peter's at the Vatican City in Rome

Raphael also painted this famous portrait of Pope Leo X, his cousin Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, and another cousin, Cardinal de' Rossi.  

Cardinal Giulio De' Medici, Pope Leo X (Giuliano di' Medici, and Cardinal de' Rossi

Pope Leo X also hired Raphael to design a series of 10 tapestries to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel, to be woven in Belgium by the top weaver of the day. 

The stunning tapestries were completed just before Pope Leo X's death, and now hang in the Vatican Museums.  Faithful to de' Medici tradition of inserting themselves in the art they commissioned, Leo X's story of becoming Pope is depicted at the bottom of the tapestries. 

This image of one of them links to the Web Gallery of Art's description of it.

So who headed the de' Medici interests from Lorenzo II's death in 1519 to 1530?  The only surviving male heirs to the senior de' Medici line were:

  • Pope Leo X formerly Giovanni de' Medici
  • Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, illegitimate, a key papal advisor and tipped to be Pope after his cousin
  • Alessandro the illegitimate son of Giulio, in 1519 only 9 years old
  • Ippolito the illegitimate son of the late Giuliano de' Medici Duke of Nemours, 8 years old in 1519. 

Rather than let control pass to the junior branch of the family, which had supported the Florentine Republic against the senior branch, Pope Lex X took over the family, but had his cousin Cardinal Giulio run the daily family interests in Florence.  Cardinal Giulio had care of the younger de' Medici heirs:  Alessandro, Ippolito, and Caterina.

Pope Leo X (Pope from 1513 to1521 when he died of malaria) was not a particularly religious Pope, nor was he a particularly serious man once he became Pope.  He was a glutton, a partier, and couldn't stop spending money

Pope Leo X was also an active patron of artist and writers and of charities for the poor, but he had the misfortune of being Pope in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his grievances to the church door and started the Lutheran Reformation of the Catholic faith, resulting in the establishment of the Protestant Church. 

Pope Leo X's unoriginal response was to excommunicate Luther.  Luther wasn't impressed and publicly burned the Papal Bull with his excommunication declaration.

Portrait of Martin Luther As Reformer

One of Luther's earliest grievances against Pope Leo X was how he raised money to continue the work on the new St. Peter's.  It was a scheme that involved selling forgiveness in the afterlife, or Papal Indulgences, to the wealthy so they could skip Purgatory and go straight to Heaven after they died. 

Pope Leo X also sold the 'business' of selling marital dispensations, or church sanctioned divorces, to a private firm that was guaranteed a certain income for many years into the future.  It all makes one wonder why it took so long for a Martin Luther to appear on the scene!

Interior of St. Peter's Cathedral at the Vatican


Pope Leo X hired Michelangelo (all was always forgiven their eccentric genius and childhood friend, Michelangelo, by the de' Medici) in 1520 to design and decorate a new family crypt in the Basilica of San Lorenzo

The crypt remains one of the most beautiful examples of Michelangelo's architectural design theories, creating a classical, formal background that appears to enlarge the room by it's used of planes and shades of white and gray. 

The two classical statues sit perfectly in their niches, representing Fame and Glory in their idealized perfection

Giuliano Duke of Nemours by Michelangelo in the Medici tomb

But what makes the static, classical setting come alive are the four fleshy, twisted, human sculptures (it's difficult to remember that they were carved into marble) representing Dawn, Twilight, Night and Day, representing the stages of fragile, messy, human life itself

Michelangelo captured the best and worst of the de' Medici, and all famed leaders:  their idealized legacies poised over their earthly faults and realities.

Giuliano Duke of Nemours's tomb by Michelangelo in the Medici tomb

The sculptures decorate the tombs of:

  • Lorenzo II Duke of Urbino (Piero the Unfortunate's son, and grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent) and
  • Giuliano Duke of Nemours, one of Lorenzo the Magnificent's sons.  

Left uncompleted were the tombs for Pope Leo X's father, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and for Giulio's father, Giuliano de' Medici.

Night by Michelangelo for the Medici Tomb

Day by Michelangelo for the Medici Tomb

Twilight by Michelangelo for the Medici Tomb

Dawn by Michelangelo for the Medici Tomb

Here's a link to a book about Michelangelo and his relationship with the de' Medici family, in case you want to read more.


To the next section:

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