Arts and the Italian Renaissance

Dinner Topics for Monday

Lorenzo_de_Medici2Lorenzo de’ Medici (1 January 1449 – 9 April 1492) was an Italian statesman and de facto[1] ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance. Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent (Lorenzo il Magnifico) by contemporary Florentines, he was a diplomat, politician and patron of scholars, artists, and poets. Perhaps what he is most known for is his contribution to the art world, giving large amounts of money to artists so they could create master works of art. His life coincided with the high point of the mature phase Italian Renaissance and his death coincided with the end of the Golden Age of Florence.[2] The fragile peace he helped maintain between the various Italian states collapsed with his death. Lorenzo de’ Medici is buried in the Medici Chapel in Florence.

Childhood

Lorenzo’s grandfather, Cosimo de’ Medici, was the first member of the Medici family to combine running the Medici bank with leading the Republic. Cosimo, one of the wealthiest men in Europe, spent a very large portion of his fortune in government and philanthropy. He was a patron of the arts and funded public works. Lorenzo’s father, Piero ‘the Gouty’ de’ Medici, was also at the center of Florentine life, active as an art patron and collector. His mother Lucrezia Tornabuoni was a poet and writer of sonnets. She was also a friend to figures such as Luigi Pulci and Agnolo Poliziano and became her son’s advisor when he took over power.

Lorenzo was considered the brightest of the five children of Piero and Lucrezia, tutored by a diplomat, Gentile Becchi. He participated in jousting, hawking, hunting, and horse breeding for the palio, a horse race in Siena. His own horse was named Morello di Vento.

Piero sent Lorenzo on many important diplomatic missions when he was still a youth. These included trips to Rome to meet with the pope and other important religious and political figures. [3]

Patronage

Lorenzo’s court included artists such as Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti who were involved in the 15th century Renaissance. Although he did not commission many works himself, he helped them secure commissions from other patrons. Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for five years, dining at the family table and participating in the discussions led by Marsilio Ficino.

Lorenzo was an artist himself, writing poetry in his native Tuscan. In his poetry he celebrates life even while—particularly in his later works—acknowledging with melancholy the fragility and instability of the human condition. Love, feasts and light dominate his verse.

Cosimo had started the collection of books which became the Medici Library (also called the Laurentian Library) and Lorenzo expanded it. Lorenzo’s agents retrieved from the East large numbers of classical works, and he employed a large workshop to copy his books and disseminate their content across Europe. He supported the development of humanism through his circle of scholarly friends who studied Greek philosophers, and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity; among this group were the philosophers Marsilio Ficino, Poliziano and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

In 1471 Lorenzo calculated that since 1434, his family had spent some 663,000 florins (approx. 460 million USD today) for charity, buildings and taxes. He wrote,

I do not regret this for though many would consider it better to have a part of that sum in their purse, I consider it to have been a great honour to our state, and I think the money was well-expended and I am well-pleased.[9]

Later years

During his tenure, several branches of the family bank collapsed because of bad loans, and, in later years, he got into financial difficulties and resorted to misappropriating trust and state funds.

Toward the end of Lorenzo’s life, Florence came under the spell of Savonarola, who believed Christians had strayed too far into Greco-Roman culture. Lorenzo played a role in bringing Savonarola to Florence.[10]

Lorenzo de’ Medici died during the late night of April 8 or during the early morning of April 9, 1492, at the long-time family villa of Careggi (Florentine reckoning considers days to begin at sunset, so his death date is the 9th in that reckoning). Savonarola visited Lorenzo on his death bed. The rumor that Savonarola damned Lorenzo on his deathbed has been refuted by Roberto Ridolfi in his book, Vita di Girolamo Savonarola. Letters written by witnesses to Lorenzo’s death report that he died a consoled man, on account of the blessing Savonarola gave him. As Lorenzo died, the tower of the church of Santa Reparata was allegedly struck by lightning. He and his brother Giuliano are buried in a chapel designed by Michelangelo, the New Sacristy; it is located adjacent to the north transept of the Church of San Lorenzo and is reached by passing through the main Cappella Medicea; the chapel is ornamented with famous sculptures, and some of the original working drawings of Michelangelo can still be distinguished on two of the walls of the Chapel and in the concealed corridor under the New Sacristy discovered only in 1976.[11]

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