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What is Lorenzo de' Medici holding in this painting?

What is Lorenzo de' Medici holding in this painting?

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Recently someone I know visited the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. I'm told this painting of Lorenzo de' Medici by Girolamo Macchietti hangs there. We've been unable to figure out what he's holding in his right hand - what is it?

And in closeup:

It is a rather featureless rectangle. As such it is open to some interpretation.

If you ask art historians, then they might say this 'thing' in "Ritratto di Lorenzo il Magnifico - Portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent", painted by Macchietti ca 1585 posthumously represents a letter:

Perhaps the most revealing portrait of Lorenzo is the depiction by Girolamo Macchietti's Portrait of Lorenzo de'Medici of 1540-50 [… ] a collaborator and follower of Giorgio Vasari. Here, Lorenzo is portrayed in front of landscape, seated in a veranda. Next to him is a tree filled with laurel braches, an attribute for his name, Lorenzo. [… ] Lorenzo's red Florentine attire is an investiture of a man of letters. He holds a letter or a document in his right hand, also a testimony to his diplomatic and political role.
- Liana De Girolami Cheney (Professor of Art History, Chairperson Department of Cultural Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowel): "Giorgio Vasari's Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent: A Ciceronian Symbol of Virtue and a Machiavellian Princely Conceit", Potere delle immagini / Immagini del potere, Iconocrazia, 2012. (Online)

That may be true.

But it certainly doesn't look like a letter. It has no indication of writing, is too bulky, too thick, has too rounded corners and a strange colour.

Admittedly, the colour argument alone is a weak one, as colour reproduction of a half-millenia old picture is troublesome enough, and amplified once more if web/phtohraphy is added to that. Just compare this version of the picture:

For comparison, pictures of Lorenzo where writings and letters are visible:

Also for comparison, the artist Macchietti delivering a portrait with a letter and natural hand anatomy:

(Girolamo Macchietti: Portrait of Matteo Di Dinozzo Lippi)

This is further complicated as almost identical versions of this picture got copied by artists like Luigi Fiammingo or later by unidentified artists at the Scuola fiorentina. Unfortunately, the Italian Culturual History website only has this anonymous version catalogued, but not the Macchietti version of "Ritratto di Lorenzo de' Medici detto il Magnifico".

If you ask me, and I go solely by the look and the hints and allegories present in this picture, then I'd say that this looks much more like a metal object, perhaps an ingot.

Why an ingot? Because the Medici weren't all about the commonly cut short narrative of going from doctors, textile merchants, bankers, to conniving popes and rulers:

Bankers were an obvious choice to fill the position of depository, since they had the wherewithal to advance loans to the treasurer when deposits did not cover expenses. In return for this “working capital line of credit,” the banker would secure the loans with papal customs, the salt monopoly, and other tax revenues in Rome and the Papal States. The Medici would establish a decades long relationship with the Holy See as the primary bankers to a succession of Popes.
- Harry Don Stephenson, Jr.: "'Unlucky in affairs of business… ' Turning Points in the life of Lorenzo de Medici", MA Thesis, Duke University, 2015. (PDF)

Lorenzo had several estates around Vico Pisano, Buti, Calci, and Fucecchio, and he owned an iron mine, as well as substantial houses, in the area.
- F. W. Kent: "Lorenzo de' Medici and the Art of Magnificence", The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, London, 2004.

After the agreement of 1466, the Medicis have been maneuvering to consolidate their dominance of international traffic. In the first months of 1470 they entered into a cartel to control quantities, prices and distribution of the proceeds from the deposits. It is an attempt of monopoly, constituted in agreement with the pope, who owns the mines of Tolfa, and with the king of Naples, owner of those of Ischia. [… ]
- Giulio Busi: "Lorenzo De' Medici. Una vita da Magnifico", Mondadori: Milano, 2016. (My translation from Italian, please improve)

Another foray into mining was Lorenzo the Magnificent's repeated attempts to gain control of the iron ore monopoly of Elba. He finally succeeded in 1489 by gaining a controlling interest in the company that mined the ore and sold it to ironmasters, who paid in cast iron or iron products as well as cash. The venture was reasonably profitable, but it did not make a lasting contribution as it began just a few years before the company's bankruptcy in 1494.
- Edwin S. Hunt & James M. Murray: "A History of Business in Medieval Europe, 1200-1550", A History of Business in Medieval Europe, 1200-1550, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 1999, p196.

Elba being the only major source of iron ore for Italy.

And my guess is that his 'diplomatic' or political record was much better than his own business dealings. Further, the very crampy features of this hand holding or grabbing the 'thing' is not the result of the artist's inaptness, but a wanted feature. Thus I would posit that this symbolises the Medici's continued attempts to gain monopolies in the metal or other raw materials trades.

For eg grabbing alum, a vital raw material for a range of textile and leather industries, which rose steeply in price after the fall of Constantinople, but was discovered in rich Italian deposits:
- Andrea Guenster & Stephen Martin: "A Holy Alliance: Collusion in the Renaissance Europe Alum Market", Review of Industrial Organization, 2015 DOI: 10.1007/s11151-015-9465-0)
- Harry A. Miskimin: "Economy of later Renaissance Europe 1460-1600", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 1977.

This then completes the deal for Lorenzo:

What Lorenzo had signed down in Rome in 1466 was a contract giving the Medici the total monopoly over all sales of alum throughout Christendom. There is no indication from his writings that Lorenzo had grasped the importance of this.[… ]

Despite this exemplary strictness, in 1466 Pope Paul II declared that the Church, in alliance with the Medici bank, would now operate a monopoly on the sale of alum throughout Europe. After salt and iron, alum was the most important mineral of the time. Without it, the cloth trade could hardly have functioned.
- Tim Parks: "Medici Money. Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence", Profile Books: London, 2005.

It is a letter.

It was a common practice at the time to depict men of business holding a letter or ledger in their portraits.

I think that was a notebook! He was a banker, so probably he needed some notes, to write down, how many people owe to his bank!

The art collection of Lorenzo de Medici

1492 is an emblematic date in the Italian, European and international History. It commemorates not only the end of a century and the end of the Middle Ages, but also the end of the Laurentian golden age in Florence. In October, Christopher Columbus was about to discover America six month before, the 8th of April, it was Lorenzo de Medici’s death, to which succeeded the famous inventory[1] of the Medici Palace and the record of one of the most exceptional collection.

It appears that the passion for collecting was leading the Medici’s life, as far as “on the first occasion when Lorenzo was able to carve out a significant new space of his own, he very quickly filled it with paintings by different contemporary masters, thereby creating […] a sort of miniature gallery of modern art for his private delectation"[2].

A question may be raised by this passion for collecting: was display a public propaganda, or was it aimed at private delectation, and decoration? The extent of his collection is amazing as a result, four areas of display within the Medici Palace will be considered, in order to reveal his predilection for fine art, to understand the influence of humanism, and consider the “magnificence” of this unprecedented gathering.

Apart from his many countryside villas (Careggi, Poggio a Caiano and Fiesole, amongst others) most of Lorenzo’s collection was displayed in his Florentine “fortress”, Via Larga. Fourteen rooms were disposed around the sides of the courtyard square, on the ground floor. Adjoining the “loggia” was a suite of four rooms, including a “sala grande”, a camera, an “anticameretta”, used as a scrittoio, and a studio. The ground floor also included a large camera for Lorenzo, with adjacent bath and antechamber. On the mezzanine, were at least three rooms, two for the servants and another scrittoio[3]. Hence, there can be little doubt that the Medici Palace was an authentic lived-in “gallery of art” where many areas were used for exhibition. Since Cosimo’s period, the family was used to show to visitors the heavier marble pieces, to be found both in the courtyard, in the garden of San Marco, and the smaller ‘fine things’ in Lorenzo’s quarter: the Library, the scrittoio, and his bedchamber.

Studying the gathering of books in the Medici Library first, is the best way to understand both Lorenzo’s taste for illuminated manuscripts, and his humanist and scholar culture. Lorenzo increased largely the collection of books brought by his ancestors. It has been established that “Lorenzo’s enormous contribution to the expansion of the family library, started by his grand father Cosimo and extended by his father Piero and his uncle Giovanni, has become increasingly apparent[4].” In other words, Lorenzo’s predilection for collection was a legacy: previously, Giovanni di Bicci, Cosimo de Medici, and Piero de Cosimo had been passionate collectors as well as bankers. However, Lorenzo was far more interested by humanism, arts and collecting, than by running the bank.

The gathering of all these manuscripts is above all the result of his humanist education, given by “Gentile Becchi, a priest, a sound Latinist, a poet[5].” By the age of twelve, the young Medici was reading Latin, studying Ovid and Dante at sixteen, he was writing poems of his own, in his native Tuscan, using precisely the rules of rhetoric, and the Petrarchan style. J. R. Hale goes as far as to say that he was one of the “major literary figure between Petrarch and Ariosto and the only man to figure in popular anthologies who was also head of a bank and of a state[1][6]”. In addition he was said to be a good musician, practicing himself the popular Florentine art of improvised singing in public and eventually interested in copying expensive books.

As a consequence, almost immediately, he gathered at his court the leading artists and intellectual of his day, and was surrounded by humanists and intellectual with scholarly knowledge of antiques sources: his teacher Marcilio Ficino, the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, the philologist Angelo Poliziano, the poet Luigi Pulci. Lorenzo attended meetings of the Neo-Platonic Academy, supporting the development of humanism through his circle of educated friends. He was also close to some famous and talented artists, artisans and engineer: Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for several years the sculptor Bertolo was, as well, an intimate of Lorenzo, installed in Palazzo Medici and for some time, the young Leonardo da Vinci. This scholarly companionship raised Lorenzo’s taste for fine art and humanists’ ideals, Italian poetry and architectural ambition. As a result, there can be little doubt that “Lorenzo de Medici was a genuine intellectual with broad yet education and discriminating tastes [7]”. The best evidence is definitely the famous Medici Library he expanded.

It contained a large collection of manuscripts, in which many religious texts, revealing his appreciation of religious tradition, music and Tuscan history. Moreover, the vast development of the library, which absorbed much of Lorenzo’s energy and finance during his later years, provided work for a great many copyists and illuminators. The Greek collection included some six hundred volumes, which were most of the time lent to Poliziano (who played a major part in the gathering of Lorenzo’s collection). The most valuable of Polizinano’s acquisition is said to be the copy of a very ancient manuscript of seven mathematical works of Archimedes. The influence of Micilo Ficino and the Neo-Platonic “Circle” played an important part in his interest for Greek philosophy. According to the inventory of 1492, the Medici library contained one of the most important collection of Greek manuscripts, after the papal collection. The legacy of Latin and Italian manuscripts inherited by Lorenzo in 1469 from his father, set the magnificence of the collector and his fine taste for illuminated manuscripts. The Medici Library contained as well a large anthology of Hellenistic poetry, and an Homeric compilation starting with the Iliad, and including the Odyssey.

However, “The precious bindings of the books added to their value as exquisite objets d’art rather than as instruments of learning. The books were bound in silk or velvet with plated frames and silver medallions, sometimes enamelled, the covers hinting at the fabulous illuminations to be discovered inside[8].”

If Lorenzo was an important patron of the arts in Renaissance Florence, expressing a particular predilection for philosophy, poetry, and travels, he was also a passionate collector of antiques objects. His activities are documented in a series of 173 letters (not only written by him) where he explained that, although his preference was for small objects, he acquired many sculptures to embellish his palace.

Hidden from the world by high walls, San Marco’s garden was the best area for the display of bronze statues. The shape of this “medieval hortus conclusus” was aimed at reproducing the atmosphere of Antiquity, and perhaps even to inspire the appearance of an ancient roman house. According to previous studies, the location of the sculpture followed a didactic and metaphoric plan: two statues of Marsyas were located at the entrance, facing each other, “as an example of the destiny awaiting those who displease Apollo, god of the arts and lord of the garden”[9]. A bust of Hadrian was sited in the passageway between the courtyard and the ancestral Medici Palace. The inventory also mentions a bust of the Emperor Nerva, larger than life two marble busts of Agrippa and Augustus (received on the coronation of the Pope Sixte IV in Rome in 1471), a statue of Plato found in Pistoia and amongst others, some Etruscan antiquities. His collection of busts exposes his taste for Antiquity, and above all for Roman Emperor examples.

Together with history, the main inspiration was mythology. Lorenzo acquired a group of three satyrs (brought by the antiquarian Giovanni Ciampolini), which were also displayed in the Garden. He owned an Eros “shooting his bow” in bronze, a replica of the same type done by Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi, and a “sleeping cupid” (gift from Ferdinand I of Aragon). Located in the garden loggia, the antiquarium housed several reliefs amongst other “Adonis with a very fine dog”, a putto holding Jove’s thunderbolt (made by Praxiteles or Polucletus). All these sculptures kept and displayed in the garden were like an opened-air exhibition, and the value of this collection for contemporary artists was huge: it provided them with classical model to study. Moreover, his antique vases and some sculpture were, for the most part, deeply cut with his name LAU.R.MED. He thus denoted his ownership.

Many of these objets d’art were bought from other collectors (in particular from Pope Paulus II’s own collection) some of them he received as presents, “sometimes wrapped up in a petition”[10] however his main source was the Roman dealer Giovanni Ciampolini, known for his scandalous behaviour in the gamesmanship of the contemporary art market. For instance, it was said that he extracted antiquities from Rome, not always legally. However, all Lorenzo’s collection was not aimed to be public his study and bedchamber were gathering the smallest and favourite object of his treasure.

If the Victoria & Albert Museum (London) current exhibition: “At home in Renaissance Italy” recreates Lorenzo’s study, it is because the ruins of it are the best proof of Lorenzo’s gathering and taste. Known as Lorenzo’s scrittoio, this tiny room located on the first floor of the family’s palace, was the very heart of his collection, and housed the antique and modern vases, the cameos, the incised precious stones and medals, coins and plaques of which there were more than two thousand altogether, according to the inventory of possessions of Lorenzo at the time of his death. “The whole family was seized with such a passion for collecting that its collection even contained unicorn horns, elephant tusks and instruments made from exotic animal trophies.”[11] The Magnificent commissioned various artists to decorate this private room, and to design a particular atmosphere devoted to contemplation and meditation.

In the scrittoio, said a contemporary visitor, “the floor as well as the ceiling was enamelled with most worthy figures, so that whoever enters it is filled with admiration. The master of this enamelling was Luca della Robbia[1][12]”. The vaulted ceiling was, in fact, decorated with the celebrated cycle of the Labours of the Months (figure 2). The twelve enamelled terracotta tiles, which illustrate the works of each month, are now considered as a unique artistic and technological feat. The borders show the influence of the astrological signs of the zodiac and how much daylight there would be in every month. The location of these majolica, in a private and intimate atmosphere, and the temporal denotation they evoke, are significant of the importance of this room. According to the reconstruction of the ceiling, with complicated measurements, it has been demonstrated that the studiolo’s surface was approximately four meters on five and a half. In view of the small size of the room, only the objects and paintings considered as rare collector’s pieces, mainly the small ones, were kept there.

The floor, now lost, was made of painted tiles, probably by the same workshop. The walls were lined with inlaid cupboards, with shelves designed to house books and works of art. Lorenzo’s passion for antiques is noticeable through the number of his gems that have ended up in the Museo archeologico in Naples. They were some unique pieces, life the famous Farnese Cup, which had an apotheosis scene on the inside with precise Nilotic allusions, and a head of Medusa on the outside. This bowl, made of sardonyx, chalcedony and agate, was valued at ten thousand florins at the time of Lorenzo’s death. Because of its archaeological and mythological high significance, thanks to its dimensions, form, beauty and figurative complexity, it has been described as the greatest existing cameo.

Besides, works by Fra Angelico, Squarcione, Piero and Antonio Pollaiuolo, Castagno, Pesellino, Filippo Lippi, Jan van Eyck, Petrus Cristus, Domenico Veneziano and Ucello were found. Since he hardly ever ordered works on his own account, most of his treasury was a family inheritance. Furthermore, an article written by Paula Nuttal[13] underlines Lorenzo’s predilection for Netherlandish paintings. Out of the 142 paintings inventoried at his death, some 42 were Netherlandish (about one-third of the whole picture collection). Amongst other, there were the famous “Saint Jerome in his study”, which was probably painted by Jan Van Eyck, along with a “Portrait of a Lady” by Petrus Christus. These two paintings carried the highest valuation above all Italian works hence, they were prized respectively at thirty and forty florins. The painting by Van Eyck must have been an especially valued object according to the rather elaborate description in the record and the fact that he had a protective leather case. The Inventory explains that the painting shows a cabinet with various books in perspective and a lion at the saint feet what’s more, it was specifically described as a painted oil, which was still something of an oddity in Florence at that time[14]. The painting by Petrus Christus should be considered in detail: the anonymity of the sitter indicates that it was purchased for its own sake, as an object of beauty and curiosity, enhancing the exotic taste of Lorenzo. Besides, they were other Northern paintings such as “Virgin and Child”, a “Head of Christ”, the “Raising of Lazarus”. There can be little doubt that most of these paintings may have been gifts. Gathering the most precious objects of his own, Lorenzo’s studio can be thus regarded as the essence of his private collection, along with his bedroom.

It goes without saying that the so-called “chamera di Lorenzo” located on the ground floor of the Palace, was as well an area of private display. It has been said that “in his bedchamber he had exquisite aubergine-colored glassware, as well as modern paintings[15]”. In fact, he commissioned the battle scene by Paolo Ucello and appropriated them for the walls of his room in the Palazzo Medici. The precise language of the Inventory may be revealing in the case of this painting, it says: “Six paintings with gilt frames above the waist coating and above the bed, which is 42 braccia long and 3 ½ braccia high, painted, that is, three of the Battle of San Romano and one of battle of dragons and lions, and another of the story of Paris by the hand of Paolo Ucello and one by the hand of Pesellino, in which there is a hunt, 300 Florins)”[16]. It has been observed that these famous paintings remained “over an elaborate waistcoat of intarsia decorations with a walnut cornice, in which there was cut in a large closet with seven shelves, two doorways and a long bench on one side of the same bench”[17]. Thus, thess paintings were part of the decoration, of the furniture. In the same room there were other paintings, including Fra Angelico’s Adoration of the Magi, a little altar by Squarcione and the portrait of Galeazzo by Pollaiuolo, amongst an ample bed with drawers and cabinets, which were chock full of various objects. Seven chandeliers were found around the room for giving light to the painting. In his bedroom many objects or equipment for tournaments were discovered as well there is therefore an obvious connection between these paintings and Medici’s devotion to tournaments.

If purchasing objects was the result of an economical wealth and a social talent, displaying them is to be seen as an art too, a genuine mise en scène. That is why Patricia Rubin asserts that “the rhetoric and ethic of expenditure and display can be seen as a mutual process of self-fashioning and its mirror.”[18].

Lorenzo’s display in the four main area of the Medici’s “citadel” is quite significant: if the aim of the Library he expanded was to testify his humanism and scholar knowledge, San Marco’s garden was designed to give evidence of his Antique awareness, and to recreate the atmosphere of an ancient roman house. His scrittoio, gathering the most precious objects, was meant to impress visitors, whereas his private bedroom’s display expressed his taste for tournament and Netherlandish painting.

Lorenzo de Medici died leaving an extraordinary treasure of antiquities, cameos and a fortune of statue, engraving his name in almost every sculpture and antiques, but also in Italian history and European Renaissance.

[ 1] List of all the possessions owned by Lorenzo de Medici at the time of his death, preserved in the Archivio di stato in Florence.

[2] Kent, F. W. Lorenzo de Medici and the art of Magnificence, university P, Baltimore & London, 2004, p131

[3] See the description of Isabelle Hyman, in Fifteenth Century Florentine Studies. Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1977.

[4] Article by Cristina Acidini Luchinat, in Renaissance Florence, The age of Lorenzo de Medici, 1449-1492. Edition Chartat. Milan, Florence, 1993.

[5] J. R. Hale, in Florence and the Medici The Pattern of Control. Phoenix Press Paperback. 2004. p49

[6] J. R. Hale, Florence and the Medici The Pattern of Control. Phoenix Press Paperback. 2004. p53

[8] “The library” article written by Cristina Acidini Luchinat, in Renaissance Florence, The age of Lorenzo de Medici, 1449-1492. Edition Chartat. Milan, Florence, 1993.

[9] “The Medici Collection of Antiques Treasures House” in Renaissance Florence, The age of Lorenzo de Medici, 1449-1492. Edition Chartat. Milan, Florence, 1993. p115.

[10] Florence and the Medici. J. R. Hale. Phoenix Press Paperback. 2004, p59

[11] “The Medici collection of Antique Treasures House”. Direction of the Museo degli Argenti, in Renaissance Florence, The age of Lorenzo de Medici, 1449-1492. Edition Chartat. Milan, Florence, 1993.

[12] Anonymous quote, see the exhibition “At home in Renaissance Italy” Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from 5 October 2006 to 7 January 2007.

[13] “The Medici and Netherlandish painting”, in Early Medici and their Artists. New Haven and London. 1995.

[14] See the commentary written by James Beck, in Lorenzo de Medici, new perspectives, ed Toscani,B Peter Lang, New York, 1993, pp131, 136.

[15] Kent, F. W. Lorenzo de Medici & The art of Magnificence. The Johns Hopkins, p31

[16] James Beck, in Lorenzo de’ Medici, New Perspectives, ed Toscani, New York, 1993, pp 337 138.

[17] James Beck, Lorenzo de’ Medici, New Perspectives, ed Toscani, New York, 1993, p138.

Paintings of Florence: 1 History

Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896), Death of Brunelleschi (1852), oil on canvas, 256.5 x 188 cm, Leighton House Museum, London. WikiArt.

The city of Florence, to the north-west of Rome, in Tuscany, has long been a centre of art. Even before the Renaissance, its painters were among the most prominent in southern Europe, and it’s often referred to as being the cradle of the Renaissance, or the Athens of Italy. Thereafter its unique collections of Renaissance art have attracted artists from all over the world, and encouraged them to paint views of the city. This article and tomorrow’s sequel look at a small selection of paintings of Florence: this concentrates on historical recreations, and tomorrow’s on contemporary landscapes.

Dante and his Divine Comedy have inspired and influenced a great many paintings, some of which have attempted to show the poet in the city of his birth.

Henry Holiday (1839–1927), Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita (1883), oil on canvas, 140 x 199 cm, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England. Wikimedia Commons.

The year after Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s death in 1882, Henry Holiday painted the second occasion on which Dante claimed he had met with his beloved Beatrice, in Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita (1883). Holiday devoted great effort to making this view of the Ponte Vecchio and River Arno in central Florence as authentic as possible. In 1881, he travelled to Florence to make studies, and researched the buildings at the time, which he turned into clay models for a 3D reference. He also got John Trivett Nettleship, a noted animal painter, to paint the pigeons so that they too were faithfully depicted.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice (1853), watercolour, 41.9 x 60.9 cm, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom. Wikimedia Commons.

Rossetti’s more fictionalised watercolour of The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice (1853) shows Dante being comforted as he is drawing an angel on that day of remembrance for his beloved. This is situated in central Florence according to the view through the window at the right, but looking out of the door at the left, there’s an incongruous country garden.

Dante himself died in 1321, and the next major event in the history of Florence is linked with Boccaccio’s Decameron, which was written by 1353.

Luigi Sabatelli (1772-1850), The Plague of Florence in 1348 (date not known), engraving after original work by Sabatelli, illustration to an edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron, The Wellcome Collection, London. Courtesy of The Wellcome Foundation, London, via Wikimedia Commons.

Doubt has been cast that Boccaccio’s description of the Black Death which struck Florence in 1348 was based on his personal experience, but few alive at the time could have escaped witnessing its deadly consequences. Much later, in the early nineteenth century, Luigi Sabatelli made this engraving to illustrate an edition of the Decameron, in his undated Plague of Florence in 1348.

The Decameron opens with a description of the horrific conditions and events which overwhelmed Florence when the Black Death struck, then takes us to a group of seven young women who are taking shelter in one of its great churches. They decide to leave the city, rather than waiting amidst its rising pile of corpses, to spend some time in the country nearby. To accompany them, they take a few servants, and three young men.

Once settled in an abandoned mansion, the ten decide that one of the means by which they will pass their self-imposed exile is by telling one another stories. Over the next two weeks, each tells one story on every weekday, providing the total of one hundred which form The Decameron.

Raffaello Sorbi (1844–1931), The Decameron (1876), oil on canvas, 45.5 x 88.7 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Raffaello Sorbi shows the group of ten during one of the story-telling sessions in The Decameron from 1876, with Florence in the distance.

A notable absence from the skyline of those paintings of the city before 1420 is the distinctive brick dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) which crowns Florence Cathedral, the Duomo, or more properly the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Sorbi’s backdrop is anachronistic in that it shows the dome.

Brunelleschi was a central figure in the Southern Renaissance, an architect and civil engineer who is generally credited with developing the first geometrically correct perspective projection for use in 2D drawings and paintings. It was he who both designed and supervised the construction of this prominent landmark, and he died in the city on 15 April 1446.

Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896), Death of Brunelleschi (1852), oil on canvas, 256.5 x 188 cm, Leighton House Museum, London. WikiArt.

His death and achievements are commemorated by Frederic, Lord Leighton, who follows convention in locating the event in a building in Florence, the window opening to a view of the cathedral’s dome. Brunelleschi is shown half-recumbent in extremis in a chair, as if flattened onto a two dimensional plane. The complex array of buildings seen between the window and the dome appear to defy correct perspective projection, but have in fact been carefully projected, and contrast with the flatness of the dying man.

Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830–1896), Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence (1853-55), oil on canvas, 231.8 × 520.7 cm, The Royal Collection of the United Kingdom on loan to The National Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

Leighton had earlier painted Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence (1853-55). Cimabue (c 1240-1302) was born and probably trained in Florence, and is claimed to have been the teacher of Giotto – both key figures in the development of the early Renaissance.

Domenico di Michelino (1417–1491), Dante and the Divine Comedy (1465), fresco, 230 x 290 cm, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy. Image by Jastrow, via Wikimedia Commons.

Inside the Duomo is Domenico di Michelino’s fresco of Dante and the Divine Comedy, the poet’s 1465 memorial. It shows Dante holding a copy of The Divine Comedy as he points out sinners descending to Hell. Behind him is the mountain of Purgatory, at the top of which is Paradise. To the right is the city of Florence, complete with the dome whose construction wasn’t started until a century after Dante’s death.

Among the many major artists of the Florentine Renaissance is Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better-known as Sandro Botticelli, who was born in the city in about 1445 and spent almost his entire life in the same part of town, leaving it for just two brief periods when he painted in Pisa and Rome.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872–1945), Botticelli’s studio: The first visit of Simonetta presented by Giulio and Lorenzo de Medici (1922), oil on canvas, 74.9 × 126.4 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s Botticelli’s studio: The first visit of Simonetta presented by Giulio and Lorenzo de Medici (1922) imagines an event which could only have taken place before Easter in 1478, when Botticelli could have been no older than 33. The artist stands at the left, in front of an exquisite tondo which he is working on. Bowing to him at the centre is Giuliano de’ Medici, who is accompanied by Simonetta Vespucci, wearing the green dress. Behind her is Lorenzo de’ Medici, often known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, and behind him are Giovanna Tornabuoni and her attendants. The view through the window shows the Palazzo Vecchio in the centre of Florence.

Girolamo Macchietti (1535–1592), Lorenzo the Magnificent (Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492)) (date not known), oil, dimensions not known, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Lorenzo de’ Medici is the subject of Girolamo Macchietti’s undated portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Lorenzo was born in 1449 into the banking family, the grandson of Cosimo de’ Medici, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Europe. Lorenzo was groomed for power, and became the de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic when his father died in 1469.

He survived a vicious attack by members of the Pazzi family, in the Duomo on Easter Sunday 1478, in which his brother Giuliano was stabbed to death. This led to his excommunication, and invasion by forces of the King of Naples. He resolved that, and died in 1492, when he was forty-three.

Odoardo Borrani (1833-1905), The Body of Jacopo de’ Pazzi (1864), oil on canvas, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Odoardo Borrani was a nineteenth century Florentine painter whose painting of The Body of Jacopo de’ Pazzi from 1864 shows the more grisly side of Florence in 1478. Jacopo de’ Pazzi was the head of the noble banking family of the Pazzi who led that conspiracy against the ruling de’ Medici family, by attempting to assassinate Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici and overthrow the government.

De’ Pazzi escaped from the city, but was hunted down, brought back, tortured and hung beside the corpse of another conspirator. His body was initially interred in the family chapel of Santa Croce, but it was then exhumed to be thrown in a ditch, as shown here. Eventually his head was used as a door knocker, and the rest of his family sent into exile.

Fabio Borbottoni (1820–1902), Ponte alle Grazie and the Loggia of the Uffizi (date not known), media and dimensions not known, Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Florence, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

The Florentine painter Fabio Borbottoni (1820–1902) spent much of his career creating historical landscapes showing the city in Renaissance times. This undated view of the Ponte alle Grazie and the Loggia of the Uffizi is among the large collection of his work now in the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.

Italy On This Day

He was only 43 and is thought to have developed gangrene as a result of an inherited genetic condition. He had survived an assassination attempt 14 years earlier in what became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy, in which his brother, Giuliano, was killed.

The grandson of Cosimo de’ Medici, Lorenzo was a strict ruler but history has judged him as a benevolent despot, whose reign coincided with a period of stability and peace in relations between the Italian states.

He helped maintain the Peace of Lodi, a treaty agreed in 1454 between Milan, Naples and Florence which was signed by his grandfather.

However, he is most remembered as an enthusiastic patron of Renaissance culture, providing support for poets, scholars and artists, notably Michelangelo and Botticelli.

He contributed more than anyone to the flowering of Florentine genius during the second half of the 15th century. Respected himself for his poetry, he held lavish parties for his artistic friends at the Careggi villa and was the protector of artists such as Giuliano da Sangallo, Botticelli, Andrea del Verrocchio, and Verrocchio’s pupil Leonardo da Vinci.

A young Lorenzo as he appeared in
Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi
Lorenzo opened a school of sculpture, at which he noticed the great talent of a 15-year-old pupil called Michelangelo Buonarroti, whom he took under his wing and brought up like a son.

Sandro Botticelli repaid his patronage by using Medici family members as models in some of his most famous religious paintings. In his Madonna of the Magnificat, for example, one of the figures is Lorenzo, while the Madonna is his mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni. Lorenzo also appears in Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, while Mars in his Mars and Venus is Lorenzo’s brother, Giuliano.

In addition to his patronage of artists, Lorenzo also expanded the collection of books begun by Cosimo, which became the Medici Library. He retrieved large numbers of classical works from the East, which he had copied and shared with other countries across Europe. He also supported philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino, Poliziano and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

Although the assets of the Medici bank were diminished during Lorenzo’s rule, partly through the family focussing more on power than the actual source of their power, i.e. money, they were still not short of jealous rivals and the Pazzi family fell into this category.

With the support of Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Pazzi conspired with Girolamo Riario, the Lord of Imola, and Francesco Salviati, the archbishop of Pisa, to attack Lorenzo and Giuliano, who were joint rulers of Florence at the time, during High Mass at the Duomo.

The goal was to kill both and seize power, but while Giuliano was being stabbed to death Lorenzo escaped into the sacristy, where he hid from the assassins. The coup d’état therefore failed and it is estimated that around 80 people, either conspirators or their associates, were captured and executed in the months that followed.

Controversially, it was Lorenzo de’ Medici, taking advice from his friend, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who was responsible for the return to Florence of the firebrand priest Girolamo Savonarola, who had left his position at the Convent of San Marco some years earlier after proposing sweeping reforms to the Catholic Church. Savonarola’s preaching, in which he railed against despotic rulers and the exploitation of the poor, and persuaded people that works of art and literature were sinful and should be destroyed, would eventually provoke the overthrowing of the Medici family.

The Palazzo Pitti was acquired by the Medici family
from the Florentine banker Luca Pitti
Travel tip:

Florence has a wealth of preserved antiquity, but one of the finest examples of true Renaissance architecture is the Palazzo Pitti - the Pitti Palace - which was originally commissioned in 1458 as a house for the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, a friend and supporter of Cosimo de’ Medici. Designed by Luca Fancelli, a pupil of Filippo Brunelleschi, it is characterised by a strong, symmetrical structure, wide arches and rusticated stone pillars and walls. It was later sold to Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici (not to be confused with Cosimo de’ Medici, who came from a different branch of the family) , and remained in the Medici family for centuries. Today it houses the biggest museum in Florence and a number of art galleries, and looks out across the Boboli Gardens, created on land Eleonora bought from the wealthy Boboli family.

The Villa Careggi, where Lorenzo died in 1492
Travel tip:

In common with his grandfather, Cosimo, Lorenzo died at the Villa Careggi, originally a working farm acquired in 1417 by Cosimo’s father to make his family self-sufficient. Cosimo employed the architect Michelozzo to remodel it around a central courtyard overlooked by loggias. Lorenzo extended the terraced garden and the shaded woodland area. Careggi, which is not far from Florence’s airport, is nowadays a suburb of the city, about 8km (5 miles) northwest of the centre.

How did the de Medici dominate Florence during the Renaissance

In the 15th century when the de Medici was at the height of their powers, they dominated Florence. [5] However, they were eager to appear as first among equals, they went to great lengths to allow the other noble and wealthy families to secure many of the offices in the City-Republic’s government. [6] This reconciled many of them to the domination of their Republic by one family. The de Medici were fabulously wealthy at least until the 1480s, and their wealth was able to smooth out any difficulties that they had experienced and the City of Florence experienced a period of peace and stability because of the de Medici's wealth.

This period of tranquility was unique in the city’s history that well-known for its political turbulence. The de Medici brought stability to the city and this allowed trade to flourish and also the arts. The stability that the de Medici provided allowed Florence to become a cultural center.

The city’s artists and writers took advantage of the peace and stability to develop new styles of art in security. Then the de Medici was quite tolerant for the times. [7] They were mostly secular in outlook and their power meant that the city’s artists and writers did not have to fear from the Inquisition or clerical interference. [8] The Medici, especially Lorenzo the Magnificent was broad-minded. Indeed, Lorenzo was himself a distinguished poet, and this led to an atmosphere where new ideas and practices were encouraged and even promoted in Florence. [9]

The de Medic had long been associated with the Humanists. Lorenzo the Magnificent was himself taught by a well-known Humanist and was sympathetic to the aims of the movement. For this reason, humanism and its ideas on human reason and capabilities flourished in the city. Indeed, many humanists such as De Valla were able to secure employment in the de Medici administration and added to the cultural life of the city. [10]

Botticelli, Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici

When browsing a museum, I’m sure we’ve all experienced the strong desire to touch a work of art (we know we shouldn’t, but I think we can admit we’ve all wanted to). Well, Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici was made to incite touch, or at least to make viewers think about touch and physical experience.

Seeing Botticelli’s Portrait of a Man reproduced online, in the pages of a book, or even when walking past it in Florence’s Galleria degli Uffizi, where it is protected by a layer of glass, modern viewers may miss a key aspect of the painting. However, the typical fifteenth-century viewer of this portrait likely would have been able to touch the object itself, and at the very least could easily draw from memory the experience of handling an object much like the medallion held by the portrait sitter, as portrait medallions were frequently dispersed and collected among the upper classes.

Sandro Botticelli, detail of Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici, c. 1474, tempera on panel, 57.5 x 44 cm (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence photo: dvdbramhall, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that this isn’t a two-dimensional portrait painting, but a multimedia work. The sitter is indeed painted quite naturalistically, so he looks three-dimensional, as though he could potentially exist in our world. The medallion that he holds, however, actually is three-dimensional . This portrait, like many paintings in fifteenth-century Italy, is painted with tempera on a wood panel. In this case, a hole has been cut in the panel, where the sitter appears to be holding the medallion, and a copy of a real portrait medallion has been inserted into that space.

This pseudo-medallion is not actually made of metal, as a true medallion is, but it is instead built of pastiglia , a paste or plaster, made with gesso and built in low relief. In this portrait, the pastiglia medallion has also been gilded, or covered in a thin layer of gold leaf, to mimic the appearance of a gilded bronze medallion. Because the image and text on this pseudo-medallion exactly mimic the orientation of Cosimo’s portrait on real medallions from this period, it is possible that Botticelli used the impression of an existing medallion to make a mold, or had access to a mold used to create such medallions.

Cosimo de’ Medici, c. 1480–1500, bronze medal, made in Florence (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Who is this man?

Well, we don’t know, despite much scholarly speculation over the years. We can discern that he is certainly intending to associate himself with one of the most powerful families in Italy at this time, the Medici. He does so by holding a large copy of a real, existing portrait medallion—an object that would have been made in multiples, circulated, traded, and collected by humanists and upper-class members of Renaissance society.

The young man in Botticelli’s portrait looks directly out at the viewer and appears proud of his connection to the object that he holds. He displays the large medallion right over his heart, an organ that was associated with the creation of lasting memories and the storage of sense impressions. The sitter is dressed as a humanist, a learned member of Florentine society.

Left: Cosimo de’ Medici, c. 1480–1500, bronze medal, made in Florence (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London) right: Trajan Denarius, Roman Dacia, 107 C.E. (Roman Numismatics Collection photo: courtesy of James Grout/Encyclopedia Romana)

The medallion, as a copy of a real object, shows the profile view of Cosimo il Vecchio (the Elder), with Latin text arching above his portrait. The text makes reference to Cosimo il Vecchio as pater patriae , or “Father of the Fatherland.” This phrase indicated the political power of the Medici, which began during Cosimo’s lifetime. The format of the pseudo-medallion is drawn from coins and medals of Greek and Roman antiquity, thereby effectively associating Cosimo with great rulers of a learned past, a past that Renaissance humanists hoped to emulate.

Who were the Medici?

Why would someone in Renaissance Italy want to be associated with the Medici family? And why Cosimo il Vecchio, in particular? The Medici were the most powerful family in Florence, and remained one of the most influential families in Italy—and Western Europe more broadly—throughout the Renaissance. Even though Cosimo il Vecchio was deceased by the time of this portrait, he was remembered as the de-facto “father” of the wealthy banking, mercantile, and political family. Beginning with Cosimo and his political rule, the Medici helped to make Florence the cradle and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance , as they were responsible for financially supporting many advances in the arts and humanities. By 1475, when this portrait was painted, the grandsons of Cosimo, Lorenzo and Giuliano, were co-rulers of Florence. Just a few years later, in 1478, Giuliano was killed in the Florentine Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo ) during the assassination plot known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. At this time, Lorenzo il Magnifico (the Magnificent) de’ Medici became head of the family and the Medici rule in Florence.

Lorenzo, in particular, surrounded himself and filled his court with artists, architects, writers, and other humanist scholars. Sandro Botticelli was one of these, looked upon quite favorably by Lorenzo and given numerous commissions during his time as a court painter for the Medici. This portrait was thus created during one of the great heights of Medici Renaissance power and influence. In just a few decades, in fact, two members of the family would become popes—Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici) and Pope Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici). In short, if one had the ability to claim even a tangential connection to the Medici family, it would only make sense to document that connection for eternity in a work of art, such as our Man with a Medal .

Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1475–76, tempera on panel, 111 x 134 cm (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence). A self-portrait of Botticelli appears on the far-right side he is the man looking out at viewers and dressed in golden robes.

Botticelli, the Medici, and Renaissance portraiture

And, again, Botticelli was able to claim just such a connection himself. In fact, the artist famously includes his self-portrait in an image of the Adoration of the Magi , also painted around 1475. The Medici were known to frequently associate themselves with the three kings as a way of showing their loyalty to the Christian faith and their will to also gift expensive things to Christ (carried out in the Renaissance by way of commissioning religious works of art and architecture). As such, many recognizable portraits of Medici family members can be found in the Adoration of the Magi . Botticelli perpetually commemorates his connection to this powerful family by adding his own portrait to the group.

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1483-85, tempera on panel, 68 x 109 5/8″ (172.5 x 278.5 cm) (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

The best-known works by Botticelli are religious and mythological scenes, such as his Birth of Venus , which can also be found in the Uffizi Gallery. However, Botticelli was also widely celebrated for his technical abilities in the genre of portraiture. In the last quarter of the fifteenth century, artists were continually working towards creating ever more communicative and naturalistic portraits.

Two examples of northern renaissance portraits. Left: Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, tempera and oil on oak panel, 82.2 x 60 cm (National Gallery, London photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ) right: Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Carthusian, 1446 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Moving away from the classically-inspired strict profile format and turning to a three-quarter twist of the body inspired by Flemish portraiture, artists like Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci , and Antonello da Messina were revolutionizing the entire genre of portraiture.

Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini (Mona Lisa), c. 1503–05, oil on panel, 30-1/4″ x 21″ (Musée du Louvre)

Painters from regions north of the Alps created portrait likenesses that turned toward their viewers and appeared to make eye contact, ultimately inspiring Italian artists, already heavily invested in naturalism, to do the same. In addition, Leonardo da Vinci’s portraits, as well as many of Botticelli’s, also began to incorporate more of the body (consider, for example, how a viewer sees the entire turn of the Mona Lisa ‘ s upper body, even the placement of her hands), thereby adding an even greater sense of physical presence to the sitters.

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici, c. 1474, tempera on panel, 57.5 x 44 cm (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence)

A truly unique portrait

Botticelli’s Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici is particularly special because it incorporates the “old” format of portraits in its medallion—those in strict profile, meant to reference similar objects from antiquity—along with the newly popularized approach that captured more lively and communicative sitters, sitters that make eye contact with their viewers. Here, Botticelli’s young man looks directly out at us, capturing our attention and thereby directing it to what he holds. We feel as though he is speaking to us, asking us to touch this three-dimensional medallion and to remember his status, amplified by his ties to this important family. The artwork combines old and new, painting and sculpture, to create one of the most unique and enthralling portraits of its time.

Read more about the presentation of self in the Italian renaissance via Italian renaissance learning resources

Francis Ames-Lewis, ed., The Early Medici and Their Artists (London: Birbeck College, 1995).

Allison M. Brown, “The Humanist Portrait of Cosimo de Medici, Pater Patriae,” Journal of the Warburg and the Courtauld Institutes, vol. 24, no. 3/4 (1961), pp. 186–221.

Rebecca M. Howard, “A Mnemonic Reading of Botticelli’s Portrait of a Man with a Medal ,” Source: Notes in the History of Art, vol. 38, no. 4 (2019), pp. 196–205.

Richard Stapleford, “Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Trecento Medallion,” Burlington Magazine, vol. 129, no. 1012 (1987), pp. 428–436.

What does a day in your life look like?

I travel on at least 70 different international flights a year. I’m lucky to be able to travel so much. I enjoy traveling tremendously. And, being from the Medici family I often have access to many unusual and extraordinary locations and events. People want to share with me. It’s a beautiful gift that my family has given to me in being a Medici.

I spend a lot of time with my family. I have a beautiful 3-year old princess daughter, named Maddalena after the daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici aka “Lorenzo The Magnificent.” I also perform a lot of charity organization work, both on boards and through financial support and charity functions for many international organizations. I spend at least 50% of my time regularly on philanthropy, working to inspire others and help change the world for the better.

What is Lorenzo de' Medici holding in this painting? - History

Medici Chapel (Cappella Medicea) is the chapel housing monuments to members of the Medici family, in the New Sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence. The funereal monuments were commissioned in 1520 by Pope Clement VII (formerly Cardinal Giulio de' Medici), executed largely by Michelangelo from 1520 to 1534, and completed by Michelangelo's pupils after his departure.

The two monumental groups (for the tombs of Lorenzo, duke di Urbino, and Giuliano, duke de Nemours) are each composed of a seated armed figure in a niche, with an allegorical figure reclining on either side of the sarcophagus below. The seated figures, representing the two dukes, are not treated as portraits but as types. Lorenzo, whose face is shaded by a helmet, personifies the reflective man Giuliano, who is holding the baton of an army commander, portrays the active man. At his feet recline the figures of "Night" and "Day." "Night," a giantess, is twisting in uneasy slumber "Day," a Herculean figure, looks wrathfully over his shoulder. Just as imposing, but far less violent, are the two companion figures reclining between sleep and waking on the sarcophagus of Lorenzo. The male figure is known as "Dusk," the female figure as "Dawn."

Lorenzo de&rsquo Medici

Lorenzo de&rsquo Medici also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492) is probably the most well-known member of the Medici family. He is the son of Piero de&rsquo Medici .

In 1469 Piero organized a joust to celebrate Lorenzo&rsquos marriage to Clarice Orsini, and in the same year the succession passed, without discord, to Lorenzo.

The Pazzi conspiracy (1478) and the following war challenged the Medici predominance, yet Lorenzo&rsquos leadership was consolidated by constitutional changes and by his securing peace with the papacy in 1480.

Lorenzo is viewed as one of the great patrons of the Renaissance, under whom the arts flourished in a golden age. This view has since been rejected by modern writers, on the grounds that to accept it would be to perpetuate a myth created by the Medici&rsquos themselves.

Instead, Lorenzo began to be portrayed as primarily a collector of antiquities, who, unable to afford to commission art on a grand scale, had to satisfy himself with offering amateur advice to others. This view is now, in its turn, being challenged as an oversimplification that underestimates and misunderstands Lorenzo&rsquos role as a patron: his patronage was more than a mere matter of political expediency, and his advice was sought by both rulers and civic bodies because he was considered an expert.

Lorenzo was both ruler and scholar. A distinguished vernacular poet, he was also passionately interested in Classical antiquity and became the center of a humanist circle of poets, artists and philosophers, which included Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano, Botticelli, Bertoldo di Giovanni and Michelangelo. His taste in architecture was formed by Leon Battista Alberti, with whom he had studied antiques in Rome in 1465 and whose treatise he read repeatedly. He showed great interest in the architectural projects of his day this has stimulated a debate on whether he may have been an amateur architect. Even if Lorenzo was not a practicing architect, there is no doubt that Giuliano da Sangallo, whom he saw as able to revive the glories of antiquity, worked in close collaboration with him.

Lorenzo continued the Medici patronage of ecclesiastical institutions. He enriched the family church of San Lorenzo, where the tomb of Piero and Giovanni de&rsquo Medici was completed by Verrocchio between 1469 and 1472, and had Sangallo build the Augustine Observant Monastery at San Gallo in 1488. Lorenzo&rsquos position as de facto ruler of Florence gave him an added importance as a patron, since little was done by public or semi-public authorities without his approval. He planned to build houses and roads to beautify his quarter of San Giovanni, although only four houses on the newly proposed Via Laura were erected.

His choice of Giuliano da Sangallo for the building of the sacristy of Santo Spirito was accepted in 1489, and he was involved in two decisions concerning the cathedral: to delay the selection of a design to complete the façade and to decorate with mosaic two vaults in the chapel of San Zenobius, a project later abandoned. Even the building boom of the late 1480s was in part due to Lorenzo, as he encouraged the legislation that promoted it. Other patrons were influenced by him, and in this period the Palazzo Strozzi and the house of Bartolommeo Scala were built.

Lorenzo&rsquos influence on the patronage of others extended outside Florence&rsquos borders. Pistoia&rsquos choice of Verrocchio for the cenotaph for Niccolò Forteguerri in Pistoia Cathedral in 1476 was the result of his intervention, as was Prato&rsquos decision, in 1485, to employ Giuliano da Sangallo to build the church of Santa Maria delle Carceri. He also gave artists introductions to foreign courts, both through letters of recommendation and gifts of work, recommending Filippino Lippi to Cardinal Oliviero Carafa in 1488, resulting in Lippi&rsquos decoration of the Carafa Chapel in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, and Giuliano da Maiano to the Duke of Calabria in 1484, which led to the building of the hugely influential villa of Poggio Reale.

Among Lorenzo&rsquos gifts was a palazzo design by Giuliano da Sangallo sent to the King of Naples and two marble reliefs of Darius and Alexander by Verrocchio sent to the King of Hungary.

Lorenzo&rsquos manoeuvring in the world of patronage must in part be understood in a political context.

At home the results it produced and the work it provided could increase his popularity and his network of clients, on both of which he depended to maintain political control. Outside Florence it could help in his dealings with foreign rulers.

His patronage increased in scale in the 1480s, after Florence had made peace with the papacy and the Kingdom of Naples.

Lorenzo&rsquos more private interests are best represented by his country retreats, where he indulged a taste for rural life modeled on Classical ideals, and in the collections that he built up at the Palazzo Medici in Florence. His major architectural commission was the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, where Sangallo created a villa all&rsquoantica, deeply influenced by Lorenzo&rsquos ideals.

He also commissioned around 1487 an illustrious team of artists&mdashBotticelli, Perugino, Filippino Lippi and Domenico Ghirlandaio&mdashto decorate his villa of Spedaletto, near Volterra, and ordered two works from Verrocchio, thought to be the Putto with a Fish and the David for his villa at Careggi. Both Verrocchio and Botticelli were employed to make ceremonial decorations for jousts.

Lorenzo&rsquos interest in antiquity is further underlined by the keenness with which he built up an expensive collection of antiquities, including sculptures, gems, cameos, vases and large-scale marble sculpture among the most celebrated items were the Farnese Cup, the Apollo and Marsyas gem and a red jasper two-handled vase with cover.

It has been claimed that this collection was made at the expense of the patronage of contemporary artists, but Lorenzo&rsquos role as a collector cannot be wholly divorced from his activities as a patron. He encouraged the revival of the ancient arts of mosaic and gem-engraving, and he consciously used antiquities to inspire modern artists.

His collection was cared for by Bertoldo di Giovanni, from whom he commissioned a relief, The Battle, inspired by an ancient Roman relief in Pisa, and he possessed Antonio Pollaiuolo&rsquos antique-inspired bronze of Hercules and Antaeus. Moreover, he established a sculpture garden at San Marco, where he encouraged Michelangelo to study from the Antique, and before 1492 Michelangelo had carved his Virgin of the Steps and the Battle of the Centaurs.

Both Bertoldo and Michelangelo formed part of Lorenzo&rsquos household, and this treatment of artists as the equals of humanist scholars and poets was unprecedented in Republican Florence. It introduced a new type of patronage and was associated with an increasing emphasis on the production of collector&rsquos pieces.

Meet Lorenzo the Magnificent – 10 curious facts

1. Why was he called Il Magnifico?

Historians have been calling him this for centuries, but how did he get the nickname? Was it because he was so extraordinary? Not really. When a man entered the Florentine Republic as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia (the highest rank) he was called Magnifico Messere. As a rule, no man younger than 45 could take on the role of Gonfaloniere, but for Lorenzo an exception was made.

When his father died, his fellow citizens asked Lorenzo to take up leadership of the Florentine Republic. He was only 21 at the time. He went down in history as the youngest gonfaloniere, and, given all his outstanding accomplishments, the nickname “Il Magnifico” stuck.

2. He wasn’t magnificent to look at

He had a flat nose, a nasal high-pitched voice and didn’t look the part at all. “HIs long flattened nose looked broken and badly set, his jaw jutted forward and his eyebrows above his big, dark, penetrating eyes were irregular and bumpy. He was quite strikingly ugly“, writes Christopher Hibbert in his book (LINK). But he had a charming personality animated and enthusiastic with a joyful nature that made him enormously popular.

3. He escaped death by a hair’s breadth

During the Congiura dei Pazzi, there was a plot to assassinate him and his brother Giuliano. This Pazzi Conspiracy came to a head at Easter during Mass in Florence Cathedral, in 1478.

Lorenzo, an able swordsman, reacted promptly and managed to stop the would-be attacker who merely scratched him with a dagger. His younger brother wasn’t so fortunate, and died from 19 stab wounds, his blood staining the floor of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral.

Florence Cathedral

4. He was a gifted poet

Lorenzo was more than just an astute diplomat and politician out to secure power for himself. He was also a talented poet, and today Italian students study his poems as part their literature curriculum. One of his most famous verses is a reflection on the brevity of life and his carpe diem philosophy.

” Youth is sweet and well / But doth speed away! / Let who will be gay, / To-morrow, none can tell.”

5. One of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s passions was jousting

As a young man he and his brother Giuliano entertained Florence by organising and taking part in spectacular games and jousting tournaments in Piazza Santa Croce. The poet Luigi Pulci dedicated one of his poems to him: “La Giostra di Lorenzo de’ Medici“.

6. He didn’t marry for love

Lorenzo married a beautiful young woman from Rome called Clarici Orsini. She was different from him in every way. Where he was extrovert and passionate, she was shy and reserved. Where he was versatile and curious, she was conservative and quite petulant.

The marriage was a political move, rather than a love match, and organised by his mother. Despite the nature of their alliance they stayed together in a peaceful marriage and had 10 children together. He is said to have been distressed when she died in 1488.

7. Lorenzo the Latin lover

He didn’t hide his restlessness or libido and often fell for married women. He’s described as “licentious and very amorous” (by Italian historian Guicciardini). He had a romantic attachment to Lucrezia Donati, a woman who he had known since they were very young, and with whom he had more in common than his wife. But it seems that their relationship remained platonic, and lived mainly in the sonnets that we wrote praising her beauty.

8. He wasn’t good at making money

He used to say quite proudly that he didn’t know much about the world of banking. With Lorenzo, not so Magnificent when it came to business, the Medici bank started a slow decline from which it would never recover. He was much better at spending it than making money, and put much of his finance towards entertainment and his great passion, art.

9. Lorenzo was the ultimate patron

He practically adopted Michelangelo when the artist was still a young boy. Lorenzo had opened a School of Sculpture near his house, in the San Marco garden, where he collected ancient statues to allow young artists to learn and improve in the art of sculpting. Michelangelo was one of those young men chiselling away in his garden. Lorenzo immediately recognised the impressive talent of this young artist and decided to take him into his home and treat him like his son.

Other artists that he financed or helped in many ways included Leonardo da Vinci and his teacher Verrocchio, Botticelli, Filippino Lippi and Ghirlandaio. He also lavished money on the patronage of writers and scholars, bought a vast number of manuscripts and with him the Medici library grew immensely.

10. He had an extravagant taste in pets

Apart from his love of horses, he fed his own horse Morello himself, he’s known to have kept exotic pets including a giraffe in his Villa in Poggio a Caiano, just outside Florence. A gift from a sultan, it was apparently was very tame and gentle. In his estate he also used to breed all sorts of animals including pigs, rabbits and peacocks.

Medicean Villa in Poggio a Caiano By Niccolo Rigacci – Photo shot by the Author, CC BY 2.5, Link

The death of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Lorenzo suffered from gout, like many of his predecessors. By the end of his life he couldn’t walk and had to be carried around in a litter. He wanted to die in his Villa at Careggi, and there spend his last months surrounded by friends.

He died on 8th April 1492, and his body was buried in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo Church in Florence, where many of the Medici family members took their final rest. In Florence the news of his death was received with desperation. In his final hours all sorts of dreadful portents are said to have happened around the city Florence’s lions killing one another, a marble ball from the Cathedral struck by lightning, and ghosts roaming the city.

Watch the video: The Rise of the Medici Family - Art Patronage (June 2022).


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