Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici
|Giovanni de' Medici|
Portrait by Cristofano dell'Altissimo.
Florence, Republic of Florence
|Died||20 February 1429 (aged 69)|
Florence, Republic of Florence
|Father||Averardo de' Medici|
Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (c. 1360 – 20/28 February 1429) was an Italian banker and founder of the Medici Bank. While other members of the Medici family, such as Chiarissimo di Giambuono de' Medici, who served in the Signoria of Florence in 1201, and Salvestro de' Medici, who was implicated in the Ciompi Revolt of 1378, are of historical interest, it was Giovanni's founding of the family bank that truly initiated the family's rise to power in Florence. He was the father of Cosimo de' Medici (Pater Patriae), the first Medici ruler of Florence, and an ancestor of other notable Medici rulers, for example, the grandfather of Piero di Cosimo de' Medici; great-grandfather of Lorenzo de' Medici (the Magnificent); and great-great-great-grandfather of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici was born in Florence, the son of Averardo de' Medici and Jacopa Spini. Though he is considered the founder of the prosperous Medici dynasty, he was not born into a wealthy family. The little money left by his father at his death in 1363 was divided between a widow and five sons, leaving Giovanni with little.
Giovanni was somewhat uninterested in politics, unless the issues pertained to his family or bank. Often, when his name was put forward to participate in the Florentine government, he usually chose to pay a fine rather than serve. His reluctance to assume a position in the Florentine government is exemplified in his writings to his son Cosimo, saying, "Do not make the government-house your work shop, but wait until you are called to it, then show your selves obedient." Nonetheless, he did serve as a Priore in the Signoria in 1402, 1408 and 1411 and as a Gonfaloniere for the statutory two-month period in 1421. In 1402, he served as one of the judges on the panel that selected Lorenzo Ghiberti's design for the bronzes on the doors to the Florence Baptistery.
Giovanni owned two wool workshops in Florence and was a member of two guilds: the Arte della Lana and the Arte del Cambio. The Medici family bank he founded in 1397, his main commercial interest, had branches throughout the northern Italian city-states and beyond, and constituted an early "multi-national" company. In 1414, Giovanni bet on the permanent return of the papacy to Rome after a long period of exile and schism, and was correct; the papacy was permanently installed in Rome in 1417 under a single pope after the deliberations of the Council of Constance. Rewarding Giovanni for his support, Pope Martin V gave Giovanni's general manager control of the Apostolic Chamber. Subsequent popes also made use of the services of the Medici banks, and in addition, Giovanni was able to secure tax-farming contracts and the rights to many alum mines from the papacy. He set his family on the path to becoming one of the richest dynasties in Europe, thereby making an essential stride towards its later cultural and political prominence. One way in which he laid the groundwork for this was by marrying Piccarda Bueri, whose old and respectable family brought him a large dowry. Despite his growing wealth, Giovanni was diligent in his efforts not to separate the Medici family from the other citizens in Florence. He did so by continuously ensuring that he and his sons dressed and behaved like the average working-class citizens of Florence. This was in part due to his desire not to draw undue attention to himself and his family, and to ensure that, unlike other wealthy families, the Medici remained in the favor of the population. His hopes were to build a positive reputation of his family by avoiding conflicts with the law and keeping the people of Florence happy. His disposition can be understood in his writings, “Strive to keep the people at peace, and the strong places well cared for. Engage in no legal complications, for he who impedes the law shall perish by the law. Do not draw public attention on yourselves yet keep free from blemish as I leave you.”
When he died, he was one of the richest men in Florence, as shown by his tax report of 1429. Also upon his death, he had also become a favorite amongst the Florentine public, with even professional rival Niccolò da Uzzano stating in a letter to Giovanni's sons that he had made the family beloved by the people and positioned them for great success. In 1420, Giovanni had given the majority of control of the bank to his two sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo. Upon his death in 1429, he was buried in the Old Sacristy of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, and his wife was buried with him after her death four years later.
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