Lorenzo de' Medici


The first day of the year 1449, saw the birth of Lorenzo de' Medici. Born into one of the richest and most preeminent families in all of Europe. Lorenzo was born to rule. This fact alone set him apart from his grandfather and father, both of whom entered the world at a time when the Medici were of a somewhat obscure clan on the margins of Florence's governing oligarchy. Lorenzo's father, Piero had taken over the far-flung Medici banking empire after his father, Cosimo had passed away. This acquisition put him in a position that made him one of the richest men in Europe. Thus making Lorenzo an heir to an enormous fortune.

Lorenzo was considered the brightest of five children, tutored by a diplomat, Gentile Becchi. He participated in jousting, hunting, and horse breeding. He loved to spend time with his own horse named Morello di Vento.

Despite having an abundance of money, Lorenzo's appearance wasn't particularly attractive by any stretch of the imagination. When Machiavelli was describing to a friend an encounter with a particularly hideous prostitute, he could think of no better insult than to compare her appearance to that of Lorenzo de' Medici. What did set him apart though was his incredible ability to talk his way out of tight situations. With his back to the wall, and his life hanging in the balance, Lorenzo was at his most convincing. A gift he was to display throughout his life - and one that would be crucial to his statecraft, allowing him to appeal to people from all walks of life.

As Lorenzo began to reach adulthood, his rangy frame began to take on muscle, his physical appearance to take on a new authority. Lorenzo was of above average height, broad in the shoulders, his body solid and robust, and so agile that he was never second to anyone. He was not without flaws, which included not only his homely face  but his weak eyesight and an almost complete lack of sense of smell. His homeliness, however, did not make him less attractive to those of both sexes. His charisma was, perhaps, only enhanced by his famous temper. As generous as he was to his friends, those who opposed him could expect to face the withering blast of his rage.

Lorenzo, groomed for power, assumed a leading role in the state upon the death of his father in 1469, Lorenzo was only twenty. The consensus was that they would acknowledge Lorenzo as the "one lord and superior", a decision made more palatable to the ambitious because it was assumed that this inexperienced youth would place himself in their capable hands. When calculating Lorenzo's rise to power, it is always important to keep in mind that the alternative to Medici rule was not democracy as we understand it today, but rather a form of oligarchy in which the self appointed "worthiest" citizens controlled the great mass of the disenfranchised. Although, Lorenzo integrated the business with politics, he had less success in running the bank than his father and grandfather had. With the advice from the Milanese ambassador, right after his accession of power, Lorenzo knew he must be able to show the leading citizens that he is of a different nature than his father, who wanted always to show his superiority. 

Lorenzo spent a large amount of money on charitable donations, building projects, and in taxes. Although these contributed to the family's popularity in the city, all of the expenditures could only be sustained only as long as the bank upon which the family fortune was built continued to thrive. The health of the bank, however, was something Lorenzo found difficult to maintain, since the more deeply he delved into politics the less time he had to attend to the family business. Perhaps it was one of the lessons that Machiavelli absorbed from those times and a topic he would touch on in The Prince when he wrote "And he who does not properly manage the business will soon lose what he has acquired, and while he does hold it, he will have endless difficulties and troubles".  Though Lorenzo has been long criticized for his poor management, the bank's declining fortunes during the years he was at the helm were not entirely his fault. The junior partners in the various branches, knowing his reluctance to pore through the details of the secret account books, took advantage of him, running up huge debts that they concealed in an avalanche of spurious numbers. There were always several accounts that they possessed so that when there was a chance of an audit, the actual numbers were kept only in the secret account books.

Though Michelangelo is the most famous name on the guest list of the Medici palace, his experience was by no means unique. Three generations of discerning and profligate Medici collecting had turned the palace on the Via Larga into a musuem of both ancient and modern art; under the guidance of the wits around him, Lorenzo had amassed one of the greatest collections of manuscripts in the world, turning the two hundred he had inherited to over one thousand at the time of his death. All of which made an invitation to the palace indispensable for anyone wishing to further his visual or literary education. To attract the attention and win the admiration of il Magnifico was the goal of any man of talent or ambition; to win his patronage was to be set out on the path to success. Not only was his patronage a good thing in itself, but to be know as a protege of the lord of Florence was to possess currency that could purchase a place in any court of Europe where learning and cultivation were valued. Many high figures were drawn to Florence by Lorenzo's reputation for enlightened patronage. 

Anytime a man has a combination of money, power and control, which all go hand in hand, his reign will be tested. Even though he was the unofficial ruler, the popes wanted him gone. Many factors were involved in the eventual assassination attempt on Lorenzo and his brother, Giuliano, the co-ruler of Florence. One of the major factors was his growing disdain towards Pope Sixtus, who betrayed Lorenzo by not keeping his word to appoint one of Lorenzo's men into a high position at the church and also not repaying large loans back to the Medici bank. This resulted in a separation in states and the subsequent new alliance of Florence, Venice and Milan. The church states like Rome and the powerful Pazzi family were furious. Perhaps their anger was caused by feeling threatened, after all, it was all about power. As the opening strike of the Pazzi Conspiracy, Giuliano and Lorenzo were attacked in the Duomo of Florence which led to Giuliano being struck in the head by a sword and stabbed 19 times, resulting in his death, Lorenzo however, miraculously escaped practically unscathed. Unsuccessful, the conspirators lay hanged in the courtyard by the end of the day. 

Lorenzo's bold visit to King Ferdinand in 1480 proved crucial. At the end of the year, the Pope lifts the interdiction against Florence. King Ferdinand had entered into an alliance with the Pope against the Florentine Republic with the hopes that the assassination would be successful. Having been unsuccessful, Lorenzo sought a way to drive a stake between two allies, the Pope and Naples, by arranging a peace with King Ferdinand of Naples and met with success. Besides being a way to influence economically the interests of the church leaders there are several other reasons for receiving an interdiction such as committing the crime of 'simony', or paying for a holy office, physical violence against a bishop or public incitement against the church. 

In 1488, his daughter Maddalena is married to Franceschetto Cibo, son of Innocent VIII; his wife Clarice dies. Lorenzo had been known for his penchant for festivals, and the marriage of his daughter to the son of the Pope was certainly a good excuse for one. “The Medici, prominent in the evolution of all the arts in Florence, were also interested in the feste or public celebrations, that part of the cultural life of the city in which the populace was most directly involved. Lorenzo in particular showed a great interest in them, to the point of drawing Savonarola’s direct accusation that ‘he occupies the populace with spectacles and celebrations, so that it will think of itself, and not of him. In 1489, Savonarola is recalled to Florence. Girolamo Savonarola is known to be a strong critic of Lorenzo de’Medici, going so far as to label him a tyrant and compare him to many fascist leaders in history. Dubbed a theologian, he studied Thomas Aquinas and disgusted by the many excesses of life in the Middle Ages he withdrew into religious fervor and seclusion. His style, laden with scholastic didacticism, was not appealing, and few came to hear him. In 1486, however, while preaching in Lombardy, he shed all syllogisms and circumlocutions and began to speak directly, simply, and passionately of the wrath of God. His popularity as a preacher grew immensely. Savonarola’s fame spread to Florence as he prophesied the doom of all tyrants who then prevailed in the world. In 1490, through the influence of Pico della Mirandola, he was called back to Florence and in July 1491 became prior of S. Marco. All the while he thundered against the vanity of the humanists and the viciousness of the clergy. Because he spared no one, Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence, urged him to bridle his tongue. He would not yield, and in April 1492 Savonarola refused to grant Lorenzo absolution because the ruler would not give liberty to the Florentines.”A great mouthpiece for extreme conservatism, Savonarola fought to change people’s opinions and lifestyles. “Girolamo Savonarola, the religious reformer who preached an end to the worldly splendor of Florence in the late fifteenth century, was among the first and most vehement.” 

At the age of 43, on April 9th, 1492 Lorenzo passes away. His son, Giovanni, the future Pope Leo X, is officially named cardinal, his son Piero took the throne and Savonarola grew to the most powerful position of authority in the city before dying in 1498. Lorenzo's death marked the dawn of "The Age of Exploration"; Christopher Columbus would reach the "New World" only six months later although he played a major role in maintaining peace between the various Italian states, it diminished with his death. Lorenzo's passing caused the center of the Italian beyond.



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