Thursday, August 14, 2014


It was the undeniable evidence of his intellect, his physical agility, and his courage, which propelled Lorenzo de' Medici to the forefront of his generation (irrespective of the fact that he was not the first born), to garner the full attention of his grandfather's and his father's tutoring and grooming to take over the ruling of the great Florentine family. Such concentrated focus could have easily birthed sibling rivalry, and yet, it didn't. Though second to the youngest of six children, each in their turn came to realize the truth of Lorenzo, his innate leadership, his charismatic personality, and his powerful loyalty to all whom he loved. He loved and protected them with every ounce of his being and they, gladly, followed.

There is little to be found about Giovanni di Piero de' Medici, not even an image, no doubt because of his illegitimacy. Regardless of his illicit birth, Piero's wife, the irascible Lucrezia Tornabuoni, raised Giovanni as one of her own. There are indications of his involvement in the family business--an easily assumable fact--and of his being a sickly person; an indication supported by his early death at the age of twenty-five.

Maria is identified as the woman on the right
in this depiction of the Magi on the Medici
Chapel wall by Benozzo Gozzoli. The other
two woman portrayed are her sisters,
Bianca and Lucrezia.
The first born child of Piero and Lucrezia was a girl child named Maria. Thanks to the forward-thinking of her very progressive mother, Maria enjoyed nearly the same education as her male siblings, replete with literature, art, mathematics and Latin. As the child of the Medici, her education also included Humanist Classicism. Her education and grace served her well. Her marriage to Leonetto de' Rossi, would produce one child, a child that would become a powerful Cardinal.

Bianca, the second child to Piero and Lucrezia, would be raised as were all the Medici children, with an extensive education. Her marriage to Guglielmo de Pazzi, while originally seen as a beneficial match, would, in fact, eventually lead to one of the greatest tragedies the Medicis had ever (or would ever) know, changing the very course of the family's history.

Loggia Rucellai
Known as Nannina--the nickname of her maternal great-grandmother, Piero's third daughter Lucrezia was equally educated. At the age of thirteen, Nannina was married to Bernardo Rucellai. When she moved out of her father's house and into her husband's five years later, she brought with her a dowry of 2500 florins. The wedding ceremony, attended by no less than five hundred guests, filled the loggia and the Piazza Rucellai.

The youngest child of this branch of the Medici holds the most bitter fruit, that of a dashingly handsome young man, brutally murdered in the prime of his life. As younger brothers will, Giuliano de' Medici idolized his older brother Lorenzo, and though he had little taste for politics or even banking, he followed his elder sibling wherever it would take him. It took him to a place were he became a pawn in the constant jostling for power that took place between the Florentine families. As older brothers will, Lorenzo felt keenly responsible for his younger brother, kept an ever vigilant and watchful eye over Giuliano.

His brother's savage death would forever change Lorenzo, turning a peaceful humanist into a man hell-bent on revenge. His actions would not only change the course of his family but of all of Florence.

"The murder of Giuliano shocked Florence, and a number of portraits were ordered for public display to serve both as memorials and as warnings to other plotters. Botticelli's painting may have been the prototype for others, and lent symbolic gravity to Guiliano’s passing, showing him as an icon, almost a saint. The open window and mourning dove were familiar symbols of death, alluding to the flight of the soul and the deceased's passage to the afterlife. Some scholars, noting the lowered eyelids, suggest this portrait was painted posthumously from a death mask."
National Gallery of Art (, Washington, DC

Thursday, July 24, 2014


"It is necessary now for you to be a man not a boy; be so in words, deeds and manners.
-Piero de' Medici to his son Lorenzo, May 11, 1465

Born in 1449, Lorenzo de' Medici was born to Lucrezia Tornabuoni and Piero de' Medici (aka Piero the Gouty). In truth, the greatest influence in his life, in addition to his educated and prolific mother, was his grandfather, Cosimo de Medici. Like his grandfather he practiced patronage of both the arts and learning, much in the very same manner. Yet he extended his boundaries, no doubt by the influence of his mother, and became a prolific poet himself. But first, he was naught but a child, a child of the most powerful family in Italy.

Detail from The Procession of the Magi
In a move of political brilliance quite uncharacteristic, Lorenzo's father, Piero, extended the customary three days between birth and baptism to position it to fall on the same day as the Feast of the Epiphany. With the stagecraft of a theatrical master, he brought the child's christening in perfect cohesion to tie the ritual to the day on the sacred calendar most associated with the family's power and prestige. For generations, the Medici had been associated with the celebrations dedicated to the Magi. Every few years, magnificent processions would fill the cobbled streets of a beautified Florence--processions paid for by Medici money--parades that would end at the Medicean convent of San Marco where a holy creche was housed. Even the more staid Cosimo participated, dressing the part of in a cloak of fur and gold brocade.

The metaphorical of the Magi to the Medicis was one easily accepted. The Magi were one of the few figures of prominence and power in the Bible who obtained their eternity in Heaven with little difficulty. So were the Medicis looked upon by the Florentines. And more then one piece of art brought that metaphorical symbolism to light. While a simple version by Benozzo Gozzoli graced the wall of Cosimo's private cell in the monastery of San Marco, the same artist would create a wondrous piece, a frescoe consuming an entire room in the Medici palazzo, begun in 1459 and finding its completion in 1461.
Here in The Procession of the Magi, the youngest of the Magi was given the likeness of Lorenzo, then eleven or twelve years old. He is at the head of a cortege (first panel on the left) which includes his grandfather Cosimo, his father Piero and his brother Giuliano. Detail of Lorenzo depicted above.

Joining this form of obeisance to the great family, Sandro Botticelli created, in 1475 (tempura on wood), his own, more personal version. In this work Botticelli turned the adoration of the magi into an apotheosis of the Medici and their entourage.
The Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli includes several generations of the family and their retainers. 16 year-old Lorenzo is to the left, with his horse, prior to his departure on a diplomatic mission to Milan

As a young man, Lorenzo was enrolled in the Confraternity of the Magi, the religious brotherhood responsible for staging the magnificent processions.

From the beginning of his life, Lorenzo was born 'to the purple,' born into the wealth that the succeeding generations had amassed, to the business empire that had been forged. Such an auspicious beginning influenced not only how those around him viewed him, but of his own perception of self. Lorenzo's youth saw not only the dawning days of the Renaissance but a change of attitude towards wealth and riches, from them no longer being considered a vice but a virtue, and the Medici family had never been more virtuous then in the days of Lorenzo's childhood. His life was shaped not only by the luxury in which he lived, but also by the complex, contrasting layers of life in Florence. Differentiating it from other eras, this was not a time when the rich were sheltered from the poor; quite the opposite. Rich shops shared blocks with crowded tenements. On the streets, silk-clad shoulders rubbed against those of the poor wool-carders in soiled rags and wooden shoes. The astute youth that was Lorenzo knew the sharp contrast of his life to the squalid conditions endured by many of his neighbors. It was an early life lesson that was to greatly shape the magnificent man he was to become.

From his earliest days, Lorenzo was shuttled back and forth between the family's city estate to one of their many country retreats, much like many of the wealthy merchant and noble clans of the era. Closest to the city was the villa at Careggi (which would later prove to be one of the first sites of Lorenzo's sharp intelligence and unwavering courage). A day's ride north found the family either at the villa in Cafaggiolo or Trebbio. At Trebbio, Lorenzo found a passion in the hunt, a passion of such inspiration it would serve to produce some of the young man's best written poetry. His description of a sunrise comes from his work, The Partridge Hunt:

Villa del Trebbio
The wolf retreated to its wilderness.
The fox retreated to its den,
For there was now a chance it might be seen,
Now that the moon had come and gone again.
The busy peasant woman had already
Allowed the sheep and pigs to leave their pens.
Crystalline, chilly, and clear was the air;
The morning would be fair,
When I was roused by jingling bells and by 
The calling of the dogs and similar sounds.

While life was externally and materialistically idyllic, Lorenzo was also a product of the relationships in his life. His father Piero was a typical Florentine man of his age, stern and dutiful, any expressions of affection were influence by his belief that his role was to prepare Lorenzo for the momentous position he would inherit, the head of a political powerhouse and business empire. It was a heavy burden to realize at a young age, which Lorenzo would have had no choice in doing. His mother, while more outwardly affection, had heavy burdens of her own, including many children--some of whom passed young--the running of a large household, one at the center of the many facets of Florentine life, as well as some chronic physical ailments, including eczema, a condition she shared with her son Lorenzo. Yet throughout her life, Lucrezia Tornabuoni would be a calming influence on her son's life.

From the start, Cosimo and Piero knew what they had in the small boy that was Lorenzo...a child star, precocious and self-assured from an early age. And much like today, they used that fact to its full advantage. At the age of five, Lorenzo was dressed in the finest of French fashions and sent off to the main gate leading into the city to pay the first greetings to the visiting Duke of Anjou. With a lisp that charmed all who heard--both children and adults alike--he paid an obeisance more in keeping with a seasoned diplomat.

Even his illness they used to their advantage. In 1455, the six-year-old, while recuperating from an especially serious bout of eczema at the mineral springs in Mercato, the small Lorenzo was elected, "Lord of the Baths," a humorous affectation which involved presiding over parties and picnics and amusing to no end the varied assortment of gentlemen in attendance.

Two others played an affluential role in the young Lorenzo's life. He was devoted to his grandmother, Cosimo's wife Contessina di Bardi. She lived until 1473, surviving her husband by ten years. Amidst those who would use such a powerful young man...who would attach themselves to him for his power and not for the glory that was his is no wonder Lorenzo craved such a maternal figure, one who offered affection and unconditional love.

Born in Urbino, Gentile Becchi was chosen in 1454 by Piero de' Medici to tutor his two sons, Lorenzo and Giuliano, yet his influence and his standing within the family came to be far more reaching. He would come to accompany various family members on ambassadorial missions as well as to negotiate marriage contracts. That Lorenzo would, much later, chose this same man to tutor his own children, is a testimonial to his regard for the man who would open Lorenzo's mind up to the works of Plato and Aristotle, works that would forever change this young child into the magnificent man he was to become.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Considered by many to be the most prominent women of the Renaissance, any discussion of her children must begin with a small insight to the astounding intellect and forceful nature of the women that is Lucrezia Tornabuoni (1425-1482). With a life anchored in her city's golden age, Lucrezia exerted considerable influence not only on her husband and later her children, especially Lorenzo, but on the society in which she held sway. Influential in the politics and society of the age, she was as well a gifted and prolific poet.

Chief among her noted and conserved works are the Sacred Narratives, poems based on the lives of biblical figures-three of whom, Judith, Susanna, and Esther, are Old Testament heroines-are virtually unique in their range and expressiveness.

Ranging from gentle lyrics on the Nativity to moving dialogues between a crucified Christ and the weeping Poems of Praise. Within one such laudi, we find the overwhelming evidence of Lucrezia's intellect, strength and determination in which she raised her children, especially her sons who would come to define and bring the Renaissance to its titular glory. Her work is, as well, as testimony to a feminine freedom, one so seemingly incongruent with the era in which she lived, yet there were none that would inhibit or deride her. For your enjoyment, the laudi:

I Concern Myself with You No More

I concern myself with you no more;
I have taken up strong arms against you;
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride you instead.

 O enemy, I now have passed
The dubious way.
My Jesus has freed me;
You gain nothing by remaining.
I have known his grace, so I will not fall;
No longer tempt me with hook and bait
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride you instead.

You believe you have good reason
To shower me with pleasures;
But I no longer think of you
So I will not offend my Lord.
I want you to leave me be,
I no longer want to hear your cries.
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride you instead.

Who makes his way to the side of Christ,
Has little need of your words;
Who takes care to stop his ears
Is not harmed by your calls.
I go to follow him who died on the cross;
Do what you will, I desire you not.
I do not answer when you call,
I ridicule and deride you instead.

Now I want you to leave me be,
With your threat of mortal wounds!
I will think only on my sins
And on God, whose bounty is infinite.
I want now to lead my life
So that God will love me.
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride me instead.

Now show me what you can do
How many pleasures you know.
If you were you and of your party,
You would have from me nothing else.
Consider my struggle at an end
With your false and trivial ways!
I do not answer when you call,
I ridicule and deride you instead. 

While academics discuss this work in its obvious intent, that Lucrezia is denying a demon that would separate her from her Lord and God, it could also be a mantra against negativity of any sort, a denouncement of its power over lives which are in the control of their owner...I do not answer when you call, I ridicule and deride you instead. I am free from you.

After her husband's death in 1469, Lucrezia found only more freedom; she bought real estate in the Pisa territory. She took a lease on a spa in Volterra and converted it into a profitable health resort. Much like a dowager queen, Lucrezia spent much of her last years in the loving embrace of her son Lorenzo and his family. She died at age 56. Her contributions to the evolution of women and their infinite possibilities lives on.

Monday, June 30, 2014


Photo courtesy of
As a confirmed Francophile, someone who spent a great part of her life immersed in the works of Alexandre Dumas, and then spent a year and a half researching and writing a novel about the Musketeers (The Courtier’s Secret), I applaud BBC America’s latest portrayal of these famed soldiers, The Muskeeters. As the opening credits announce, the show is based ‘on the CHARACTERS’ of Dumas. Such a statement gives them the license to play a bit loosely with the history of the age, which the writers do, but nowhere near to the degree that some of the other period series of late (The Borgias, Da Vinci’s Demons) have done. What they have captured perfectly—through the writing, the casting, and the direction--is the marvelous essence that is The Musketeers. It is replete with breathlessly handsome dashing men, subtle yet sarcastic wit intrinsic to Dumas’ characters, and well-written episodes bursting with the action and adventure that originally defined these tales and why we cherish them as classic stories.

D'artagnan as portrayed by
Luke Pasqualino
For the first time D’artagnan, portrayed by Luke Pasqualino, has been
Charles de Batz
de Castelmore d'Artagnan
The real man Dumas'
based his character upon
cast with the coloring appropriate to his Gascon heritage (dark hair, dark eyes). Pasqualino possesses the youthful innocent charm so distinctive to the character. Athos played by Tom Burke is sufficiently gloomy and a forthright leader in equal parts, Howard Charles gives Porthos the perfect amount of snarkiness and forever honorable and to-the-death warrior that he was, and drenched in besotting masculine sensuality, Santiago Cabrera plays Aramis as he should be (women want him, men want to be him).

Santiago Cabrera as Aremis
Constance as portrayed by
Tamla Kari

In Constance, both the writing and the casting have taken a slightly different turn; Tamla Kari is not an exquisite beauty (though she is quite lovely) that we’ve come to know (i.e. Rachel Welch), nor is she the damsel in distress as she has been forever portrayed. And yet there is something wonderfully compelling in this version of the most important female in these tales. The other significant female role, that of Milady de Winter, has not yet coalesced (by the second episode) enough and she appears—thus far—a bit gratuitous. Maimie McCoy’s rendition of this character, and what the writers choose to do with her, will need watching.

By far one of the best inclusions is the stronger and more involved character of Captain Treville, played by Hugo Speer. Though his role in the Dumas’ original tales is small, his influence—most especially upon the young D’Artagnan—is vital to the Musketeers, to their code of honor. Hopefully this character will find more attention in this BBC America version.

But, as with the books, the true captivating core of these stories is the bond between these four men and the playful, lascivious, and always—always—devoted, determined, and honorable lives they lead. We are swept away by their chivalry, their prowess, and their beauty. As with any historical FICTION allowances have to be made in terms of story in order for a great fictional story to be told. In the case of BBC America’s The Musketeers, it is a very, very small price to pay for delightful entertainment.

All for one, and one for all!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


If one were to give a cursory look at the Medici family history, it would appear as if the generation of Cosimo the Elder was immediately followed by that of Lorenzo, il Magnifico. But in fact a generation existed between them. One, unfortunately, easily forgotten.

As the family tree demonstrates, Cosimo had one brother surviving through to maturity. Lorenzo de Medici (who would later come to be known as Lorenzo the Elder), was a valued member of the Medici family, as well as the Florentine community. It is said of him that he is the father of the dei popolani (of the common people) branch of the Medici family, perhaps not the greatest of distinctions. However, his devotion to his more distinguished brother could never be questioned. Educated by Carlo Marsuppini, a humanist and chancellor of the Florentine Republic, Lorenzo the Elder followed his brother on all of Cosimo's travels, both those before and during Cosimo's expulsion. From Verona to Ferrara to Vincenza, Lorenzo remained close to his brother's side. During Cosimo's banishment, Lorenzo attempted to form an army to fight for Cosimo's freedom. Unsuccessful, Lorenzo joined Cosimo in Venice, where they spent the majority of the ousted years.

Upon the return of the Medici to power in Florence, Lorenzo the Elder worked tirelessly in the family's
Pierfrancesco in Filippino Lippi's
Adoration of the Magi
banking efforts. He married Ginevra Cavalcanti, the Cavalcantis a powerful and noble Florentine family in their own right, and together they gave birth to two children. The eldest, Francesco, died in childhood. While his brother Pierfrancesco would go on to gain a much more important place in the Medici clan.

"Orphaned" (in this era of Italian history, the death of the father would constitute being orphaned) at the age of seven, Pierfrancesco was raised by his influential and intellectual uncle Cosimo. He would go on to serve the Republic, and henceforth his uncle, as an astute and talented ambassador, first to the pope (1458) and then to Mantua (1463). In 1459 he served as Priore delle Arti.

The single misstep in this man's career came in 1466 when he became part of Lucca Pitti's attempted coup of his cousin Piero (Cosimo's son). Forgiven for his transgression, Pierfrancesco would live out his years serving the family banking establishments dilligently, bringing help to his younger cousin Lorenzo the Maginificent at a momentous point in history. Upon Pierfrancesco's death in 1476, the same cousin Lorenzo would adopt and raise Pierfrancesco's two children.

As for Cosimo, he gave birth to a total of three children. His illegitimate son Carlo was discussed in a previous post. With his wife, Contessina de Bardi, Cosimo conceived two sons, neither of whom would greatly distinguish themselves.

Giovanni di Cosimo de Medici
by Francesco Salviati
The least known of the two is Giovanni di Cosimo de Medici. Though born as the second son, Cosimo groomed Giovanni to be his successor; not only did he enjoy better health than his elder brother he shiwed a greater proclivity for education, especially in the music and the humanities. Beginning in 1438, he served as the director of the Ferrara branch of the family bank and in 1454, Giovanni became a Prior of Florence, serving as a member of the delegation welcoming Pope Pius II to the city. In the same year he married Ginevra degli Alessandri and the two produced one child, a son who failed to live past his eighth birthday. As if the loss was more than he could manage, Giovanni soon followed his son, passing away in 1463.

Villa Medici a Fiesole

Nonetheless, Giovanni left a lasting legacy. As a renowned patron of the arts, he sponsored such great talents as Mino da Fiesole (whom he had build the Villa Medici a Fiesole), Desiderio da Settignano, Donatello, Domenico Veneziano, Pesellino, and most importantly Filippo Lippi.

The hopes of the Medici family fell upon the surviving, legitimate child, Piero, known also as Piero the Gouty. As his nickname implies, he was not his father's first choice of successor due to his poor health, but on the passing of his brother, he had no choice but to step up to the helm. Piero became the last Medici to be elected as Gonfalonier of Justice in 1461. And though he did not possess either the wisdom or the virtue of his father, he came to power upon Cosimo's death in 1464, a death brought on by the same gout Piero suffered. To his credit and his detriment, Piero was known as a good-natured man, inclined to be merciful, mild, and lenient, wonderful qualities in a human, easily manipulated qualities in a politician. It has been said that Piero almost allowed himself to be governed, some men usurping so much authority they nearly stripped him of his power completely.

Basicilica Sant'Ambrogio
Many of the city's more aggressive, influential men--men such as Dietisalvi di Nerone and Agnolo Acciaiuoli--planned to depose Piero. The scheme began with the manipulations of elections, but through the large Medici following and friendships, Piero was able to block their plan. Yet things only grew worse for the passive Piero. Blocking a loan requested by Milan though many in the government approved of it, brought more and more antagonism against him. When Piero went off to Careggi, one of the Medici's country villas, his enemies decided to murder him during his return journey. Troops provided by Borso d'Este hid in Sant'Ambrogio del Vescovo, a church Piero typically--and as was commonly known--passed on his way home. Warned by Giovanni II Bentivoglio, Piero took an alternate route and was able to escape the coup. Futher frustrating the assassin, his son Lorenzo discovered a road-block set up by the conspirators to capture Piero in his trip towards the Medici villa at Careggi; he was not recognized, and was able to warn his father. That coup failed as did one weakly launched by the Venetians. Though the threats were multiple and malicious, Piero continued his clement ways, punishing only those whom it was too dangerous not to.

Piero di Cosimo de Medici scuffled with the Venetians and the Vatican in his lifetime, especially with the advent of Pope Paul's papacy. He was able to send diplomats in search for the answers to such antagonism, but he died before peace--and peace there was--was made.

Passing in 1469, serving only five years as the defacto ruler of Florence, this impotent if incurably kind man was grieved over by the entire city. With his intellectual, erudite, and prolific wife, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Piero left two sons...two sons whose fate would be inextricable entwined with the city of their birth, each changed forever by each other.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


No discussion of Cosimo de' Medici, the Elder, would be complete without an homage to his commitment and worship of magnificent architecture. Francesco Guicciardini wrote of Cosimo in his The History of Florence, "His generosity, especially over the construction of buildings, was not that of a citizen but of a king."

The tour begins at the Palazzo de Medici itself. It has been said that the phases of the palace, mirror those of the great city in which it resides, marking out the important stages of its development. As the financial holdings of the family grew, Cosimo's ancestors purchased and moved the family to a quieter part of the city, to the broad and serene Via Larga (now known as the Via Cavour). The residential road, only recently constructed, flanked the eastern border of the largest of the sixteen districts of the city, the gonfalone del Leon d'Oro. In the beginning, the family occupied a series of adjacent houses, small structures Cosimo felt could be vastly improved upon.

Though a major sponsor of Brunelleschi, Cosimo chose Michelozzo di Bartolomeo as the artchitect when construction began in 1445, rejecting Brenelleschi's design as 'too lavish and magnificent,' fearing the envy of the citizens Cosimo served. Taking ten years to complete, the palazzo--as it stood then--was an example of the newest of construction. Purely cube in shape, it combined the traditional material (pietra forte: fine-grained sandstone and rustication) with the new concepts of the Rensaissance, where each story was visibly defined and a big cornice was topping off the roof border. The hard Doric columns and the arcades of the courtyard, with its respective asymmetrical entrances, situated at the corner of the ground floor were built from the prototype of palace’s courtyard created by Michelozzo's illustrious teacher, Filippo Brunelleschi, in the 15th century. Since then, and for more than a century, the palaces of the highest Florentine families were, for the most part, designed in the Palazzo Medici style.  The result was a projection of austerity and grandeur in harmonious coexistence.

Of great importance to the prominent families of Renaissance Florence were their family chapels. Though San Lorenzo began as a project of the city, with claims of being one of the oldest cathedrals in the city, its humble origins, built in 393, sat outside of the then less encompassing city walls and was considered the city's cathedral. When rebuilding, begun in 1419, came to a halt due to financial problems, Cosimo took over. Brunelleschi's design, with grey pietra serena columns, gives a cool, airy quality to the interior. The bronze pulpits (circa 1460) are Donatello's last work and depict the Resurrection and scenes from the life of Christ; from these pulpits, Savonarola used to preach his hellfire-and-brimstone sermons. A fresco by Bronzino depicting the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (1569) is a Mannerist study of the human body. Inside Brunelleschi's geometrically precise Old Sacristy, there are eight tondi (circular reliefs) by Donatello depicting the Evangelists and scenes from the life of St. John.

Despite its history, the building is seen as one of the great examples of the new style. Its more notable features include: the attempt to create a proportional relationship between nave and aisle (aisle bays are square whereas nave bays are 2X1);  the articulation of the structure in pietra serena (Italian: “dark stone”); the use of an integrated system of column, arches, entablatures; a clear relationship between column and pilaster, the latter meant to be read as a type of embedded pier; the use of proper proportions for the height of the columns; the use of spherical segments in the vaults of the side aisles.

There are significant problems in the design, most, however, occur at the level of detail. Giorgio Vasari thought that the columns along the nave should have been elevated on plinths. That the pilasters along the wall of the side aisles rest on a floor that is three steps higher than the nave, is also considered an error.

San Lorenzo is the burial place of the Medici, in what are called the Medici Chapels which you enter into through the back of the church, and are considered by some as the grandest portion of the Basilica. Giovanni di Bicci de Medici was the first to be entombed there and the family was still paying for its latest renovation when the last member of the family, Anna Maria Luisa de Medici, died in 1743.

This former Benedictine convent, the Badia at Fiesole, which was partially rebuilt by Cosimo the Elder, a regular resident here, accommodates a Romanesque church. Its initial façade with its geometric designs in green and white marble was incorporated into a later façade which was never completed. The cloisters are representative of the style inaugurated by Brunelleschi. The first cathedral of Fiesole was situated lower down the hill than the present one, and had been built, according to the tradition, over the site of the martyrdom of Saint Romulus of Fiesole. In 1028 the present cathedral was founded by Bishop Jacopo the Bavarian to replace it, as he wished it to be inside the city walls.

Though these are but three of Cosimo's architectural contributions, there were still more, in fact he built outside his own country, even in Jerusalem; and his buildings were not only sumptuous and expensive, but constructed with supreme intelligence. It could be said that Cosimo de' Medici not only financed the Renaissance, he helped to build it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


To delve deeply into the life of Cosimo de Medici, pater patriae, Florence's Father of the Fatherland, we find a hard-nosed business man; a man who brought his family and his homeland to financial, flourishing greatness with his business acumen. Though his aptitude resided firmly in banking and the accumulation of wealth, he knew the value of art as well, though his admiration was tempered by the value he placed upon it.

The painter Salviati quotes Cosimo as saying, “All those things (works of art) have given me the greatest satisfaction and contentment because they are not only for the honor of God but are likewise for my own remembrance. For fifty years, I have done nothing else but earn money and spend money; and it became clear that spending money gives me greater pleasure than earning it.” Clearly, he understood the importance of art in his life as well as in the evolution of human the gift that it is. And he put his money behind such truths, beginning the tradition of sponsorship through commission, that would bring the world some of the greatest artists and their work the world has ever known.

Though Cosimo was patron to many, a few reach out to us for the immortality of their splendid work.

Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi (1386-1466), better known as Donatello, is known as one of the greatest sculptors of the Renaissance, if not all time. His work is touted for its savage force and strength; a reflection, no doubt, of the dynamic, vigorous times in which he lived. Here are a few of the works produced thanks, in part, to the patronage of Cosimo de Medici.

Donatello's St. George 
c 1420 Marble 6'5"
An exquisite example of the artist's emotional realism, his ability to create narratives
and characters, ready to move, to fight, to truly exist. 
Donatello's David
c. 1440s, bronze, 5'2"
Revolutionary for its day, it depicts David not as the king he was to become,
 but as the innocent and virtuous youth which holds the promise of the greatest yet to come. 
St. John the Evangelist by Donatello
c. 1410, marble,  6'8"
This statue represents a clear example of perspective achieved. To offset the distortion
from seeing the statue from below, Donatello elongated the body in relation to his legs.
 Remarkable are the saint's deep, penetrating expression, and the realistic treatment
 of his open hand on the book.

Born to a butcher and his wife who died while he was still a small child, Fra' Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) would be raised by his aunt, Mona Lapaccia. As schoolboy, instead of studying he would spend all his time scrawling pictures on his own books and those of others. (Lives of Artists, Vasari). Through his evolution, we see the very evolution of painting into the realm of realism and dimensionality.

Madonna and Child c 1440
The Walters Art Museum
This tender and classical rendering is clear evidence of the obsession with
the antiquity that would characterize the age.
Madonna and Child c 1445
National Gallery of Art
The similarity of expression is a telling sign of Fra Filippo Lippi's devotion,
 yet the more readily apparently dimensionality, as well as the delicacy of details 
(especially the golden mesh-like, intricate halo above Mary's head) clearly reveal
 the evolution of the artist's prowess.
Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement c1440
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Perhaps one of the most recognizable of Lippi's works, the composition depicts a common 
occurrence in the courtship of the day, when a man would climb to a woman's window
 to see her, to speak with her, as Romeo did to Juliet. It is the earliest surviving double 
portrait in Italian art, most probably Ranieri Scolari and Angiola di Bernardo Sapiti. 
The work baffles scholars as to its it to commemorate their marriage, 
the impending birth of their child and yet their eyes do not meet. 

Mad and poverty stricken, it was the patronage of Cosimo, his commission and sponsorship, which not only pulled Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) from the dregs of a hard life, it catapulted him to eternal eminence. Though the architect designed and built many breathtaking buildings, one need look no further than the Duomo--the domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore--to see his true brilliance.

Construction on the new cathedral began in 1294, Brunelleschi's involvement did not begin until 1418. In that year, the Arte delle Lana (the guild of the wool makers) held a competition to determine who would finish the magnificent structure with the design and construction of the dome. The two main competitors were Lorenzo Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, the latter with the full support of the Medici. The work, which began in 1420 and ended in 1436, would produce not only one of the most aesthetically impressive  and glorious of structures, it would make history, becoming the first 'octagonal' dome to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame, a feat many believed impossible. Years after its completion, Florentines often worried over its collapse, having little faith in the innovation that took place in their city. Brunelleschi was granted the honor to be buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore with a marble bust, reputed to be carved from life, and placed in perpetual memory with a fitting epitaph, "Both the magnificent dome of this famous church and many other devices invented by Filippo the architect, bear witness to his superb skill. Therefore, in tribute to his exceptional talents, a grateful country that will always remember buries him here in the soil below."

By the time of his death in 1464, it is believed that Cosimo invested near to 600,000 gold florins in the support of scholarly learning, architecture, and other arts. As it is known that the fortune left to him by his father only equaled approximately 180,000 florins, this number is staggering, clear evidence of the man's ability not only to make money, but to spend it wisely.