Lorenzo de' Medici

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Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de Medici2.jpg
Portrait by Agnolo Bronzino
de facto ruler of Florence
Predecessor Piero the Gouty
Successor Piero the Unfortunate
Spouse(s) Clarice Orsini


Lucrezia de' Medici
Piero de' Medici
Maddalena de' Medici
Contessina Beatrice de' Medici
Giovanni de' Medici, Pope Leo X
Luisa de' Medici
Contessina de' Medici
Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours
Full name
Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici
Noble family Medici
Father Piero the Gouty
Mother Lucrezia Tornabuoni
Born (1449-01-01)1 January 1449
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died 9 April 1492(1492-04-09) (aged 43)
Careggi, Republic of Florence
Signature Lorenzo de' Medici.svg

Lorenzo 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. He is perhaps best known for 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.


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 was one of the wealthiest men in Europe and 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 four 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]


Bust of Lorenzo de' Medici by Verrocchio (1480).

Lorenzo, groomed for power, assumed a leading role in the state upon the death of his father in 1469, when Lorenzo was twenty. Already drained by his grandfather's building projects and constantly stressed by mismanagement, wars, and political expenses, the bank's assets contracted seriously during the course of Lorenzo's lifetime.[4]

Lorenzo, like his grandfather, father, and son, ruled Florence indirectly, through surrogates in the city councils, threats, payoffs, and strategic marriages.[5] Although Florence flourished under Lorenzo's rule, he effectively reigned as a despot, and people had little political freedom.[6] Rival Florentine families inevitably harbored resentments over the Medicis' dominance, and enemies of the Medici remained a factor in Florentine life long after Lorenzo's passing.[5] The most notable of these rival families was the Pazzi, who nearly brought Lorenzo's reign to an end when it had barely begun.[citation needed]

On Easter Sunday, 26 April 1478, in an incident called the Pazzi Conspiracy, a group including members of the Pazzi family, backed by the Archbishop of Pisa and his patron Pope Sixtus IV, attacked Lorenzo and his brother and co-ruler Giuliano in the Cathedral of Florence. Giuliano was killed, but Lorenzo escaped with only a stab wound. The conspiracy was brutally put down by such measures as the lynching of the Archbishop of Pisa and the death of the Pazzi family members who were directly involved.[7]

Detail of The Confirmation of the Rule fresco in the chapel of Santa Trinita, featuring Antonio di Puccio Pucci, Lorenzo de' Medici, Francesco Sassetti, and his son, Federico (1483-85).

In the aftermath of the Pazzi Conspiracy and the punishment of Pope Sixtus IV's supporters, the Medici and Florence suffered from the wrath of the Vatican. The Papacy seized all the Medici assets Sixtus IV could find, excommunicated Lorenzo and the entire government of Florence, and ultimately put the entire Florentine city-state under interdict.[8] When these moves had little effect, Sixtus IV formed a military alliance with King Ferdinand I of Naples, whose son Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, led an invasion of the Florentine Republic, still ruled by Lorenzo.[9]

Lorenzo rallied the citizens. However, with little support from the traditional Medici allies in Bologna and Milan (the latter being convulsed by power struggles among the Milanese ruling family, the Sforza),[7] the war dragged on, and only diplomacy by Lorenzo, who personally traveled to Naples, ultimately resolved the crisis. This success enabled Lorenzo to secure constitutional changes within the Florentine Republic's government which further enhanced his own power.[5]

Thereafter, Lorenzo, like his grandfather Cosimo de' Medici, pursued a policy both of maintaining peace and a balance of power between the northern Italian states and of keeping the other major European states such as France and the Holy Roman Empire's Habsburg rulers out of Italy. Lorenzo maintained good relations with Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, as the Florentine maritime trade with the Ottomans was a major source of wealth for the Medici.[10]


Lorenzo by Girolamo Macchietti (16th century)

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.[11]

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 including the philosophers Marsilio Ficino, Poliziano and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.[12] They studied Greek philosophers, and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity.

Apart from a personal interest Lorenzo also used the Florentine scene of fine arts for his diplomatic efforts. An example includes the commission of Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Cosimo Rosselli to Rome in order to paint murals in the Sistine Chapel — a move that has been interpreted as sealing the alliance between Lorenzo and Pope Sixtus IV.[12]

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.[13]

Later years[edit]

A posthumous portrait of Lorenzo by Giorgio Vasari (16th century)

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.[14]

Lorenzo de' Medici died during the late night of 8 April or during the early morning of 9 April 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.[15]

Marriage and children[edit]

Lorenzo married Clarice Orsini by proxy on 7 February 1469. The marriage in person took place in Florence on 4 June 1469. She was a daughter of Giacomo Orsini, Lord of Monterotondo and Bracciano by his wife and cousin Maddalena Orsini. Clarice and Lorenzo had 10 children:

Lorenzo also adopted his nephew Giulio, the illegitimate son of his slain brother Giuliano. Giulio later became Pope Clement VII.

Lorenzo's political heir was his first-born son, Piero 'the Unfortunate', who squandered his father's patrimony and brought down his father's dynasty in Florence. Another son, Giovanni, who was elected Pope soon afterwards, restored it, but it was only made wholly secure again on the accession of his great-grandson from a branch line of the family, Cosimo I de' Medici.

Popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Kent, F.W. (2006). Lorenzo De' Medici and the Art of Magnificence. USA: JHU Press. p. 248. ISBN 0-8018-8627-9. 
  2. ^ Gene Brucker, Living on the Edge in Leonardo's Florence, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), pp. 14-15.
  3. ^ Niccolò Machiavelli, History of Florence, Book VIII, Chpt. 7.
  4. ^ Walter, Ingeborg (2013). "Lorenzo der Prächtige: Mäzen, Schöngeist und Tyrann" [Lorenzo the Magnificent: Patron, Aesthete and Tyrant]. Damals (in German) 45 (3): 32. 
  5. ^ a b c Reinhardt, Volker (2013). "Die langsame Aushöhlung der Republik" [The slow and steady Erosion of the Republic]. Damals (in German) 45 (3): 16–23. 
  6. ^ Guicciardini, Francesco (1964). History of Italy and History of Florence. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 8. 
  7. ^ a b Thompson, Bard (1996). Humanists and Reformers: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. pp. 189 ff. ISBN 0-8028-6348-5. 
  8. ^ Hancock, Lee (2005). Lorenzo de' Medici: Florence's Great Leader and Patron of the Arts. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p. 57. ISBN 1-4042-0315-X. 
  9. ^ Martines, Lauro (2000). April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici. Oxford University Press. 
  10. ^ Inalcik, Halil (2000). The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600. London: Orion Publishing Group. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-84212-442-0. 
  11. ^ La Poesie di Lorenzo di Medici | The Poetry of Lorenzo di Medici- Lydia Ugolini; Lecture (1985); Audio
  12. ^ a b Schmidt, Eike D. (2013). "Mäzene auf den Spuren der Antike" [Patrons in the footsteps of Antiquity]. Damals (in German) 45 (3): 36–43. 
  13. ^ Brucker, G., ed. (1971). The Society of Renaissance Florence: A Documentary Study. New York: Harper & Row. p. 27. 
  14. ^ Donald Weinstein, Savonarola the Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet (New Haven, 2011) Chap 5: The Magnificent Lorenzo
  15. ^ Peter Barenboim, Sergey Shiyan, Michelangelo: Mysteries of Medici Chapel, SLOVO, Moscow, 2006. ISBN 5-85050-825-2
  16. ^ Leonardo on IMDBLeonardo on IMDB

Further reading[edit]

  • Miles J. Unger, Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de Medici (Simon and Schuster 2008) is a vividly colorful new biography of this true "renaissance man", the uncrowned ruler of Florence during its golden age.
  • Christopher Hibbert, The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall (Morrow-Quill, 1980) is a highly readable, non-scholarly general history of the family, and covers Lorenzo's life in some detail.
  • F. W. Kent, Lorenzo de- Medici and the Art of Magnificence (The Johns Hopkins Symposia in Comparative History (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004) A summary of 40 years of research with a specific theme of Il Magnifico's relationship with the visual arts.
  • Peter Barenboim, Michelangelo Drawings - Key to the Medici Chapel Interpretation ( Moscow, Letny Sad, 2006) ISBN 5-98856-016-4, is a new interpretation of Lorenzo the Magnificent' image in the Medici Chapel.
  • Williamson, Hugh Ross (1974). Lorenzo the Magnificent. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Historical novels[edit]

  • Linda Proud, A Tabernacle for the Sun (Godstow Press, 2005), a literary novel set in Florence during the Pazzi Conspiracy adheres closely to known facts.
  • Linda Proud, Pallas and the Centaur (Godstow Press, 2004), deals with the aftermath of the Pazzi Conspiracy and Lorenzo de' Medici's strained relations with his wife and with Poliziano.
  • Linda Proud, The Rebirth of Venus (Godstow Press, 2008), the final volume of The Botticelli Trilogy, covers the 1490s and the death of Lorenzo.

External links[edit]