handfuls and handfuls of people in the family could be unaccounted for, indeed unnamed, the growth of the family has come to a man for whom the information is endless. We come to Cosimo the Elder.
Cosimo was born on September 27, 1389. Thanks to the enormity of wealth acquired by his father, as well as Giovanni's open and intellectually curious mind, Cosimo, and his younger brother, Lorenzo the Elder, enjoyed the very best education the late 14th/early 15th century could provide, an education entrenched firmly in the Classical Movement. Developed in the Middle Ages by Marinus Cappella, it was systematized during the Renaissance era by one Petrus Ramus. It was an education configured by the 'trivium:' the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; leading to the 'quadrivium:' consisting of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In the areas of logic, philosophy, and rhetoric, the curriculum was based, almost in totality, upon the teachings of Aristotle, Proclus, and Plato.It comes as no surprise, then, that Cosimo became a Humanist, one of the first in this era, one of the first to embrace this old/new way of thinking.
Humanism, in essence, values human beings, individually and collectively, over doctrine or faith. It could be argued that the resurgence of Humanism came from out of the Dark Ages themselves, where religious and clerical authority reigned supreme, preying on the fears of the uneducated wrought by the cultural and economic deterioration of the time period. But as civilization began to evolve once more, such fear-induced imposed authority lost its leverage, given way--giving light--to the reemergence of the Humanist movement.
"Early Italian humanism, which in many respects continued the grammatical and rhetorical traditions of the Middle Ages, not merely provided the old Trivium with a new and more ambitious name (Studia humanitatis), but also increased its actual scope, content and significance in the curriculum of the school and university and in its own extensive literary production." (Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965, p. 178).
The Renaissance Humanist movement began in Italy, in the childhood homeland of Cosimo de Medici. It would come to define his actions, his very way of thinking, for good and for bad, throughout his life.
Cosimo's influence and accomplishments came easily and quickly. At the age of 26, he accompanied the Antipope John XXIII at the Council of Constance (the ecumenical council that ended the Three Popes Controversy--The Western Schism--by deposing one, accepting the resignation of another, and electing Pope Martin V). In the same year, Cosimo was named as a Priore of the Republic. He would never serve as Gonfaloniere (governor) as his father had; in fact, a Medici would not do so until well into the 16th century. But it did not mean Cosimo would not rule.
Upon the death of his father in 1429, Cosimo took over the reins of the family, a family already deeply mired in the a political schism taking place in Florence, one that had started almost a decade previous. The city was divided into two factions, one headed by Niccolo da Uzzano and one by Giovanni di Bicci de Medici himself. At the heart of the matter was the question: in whose hands did the true concerns of the city lay? It was, on the surface, a a split between the upper and middle classes, a push-pull that would last for nearly fourteen years. Like his father, Cosimo, though considered the wealthiest man in all of Europe, was firmly on the side of the lower classes, adopting the policy of his family by supporting the poor and lesser guilds over the tyranny of the wealthy families that ruled the city. But like most political controversies, more lay beneath what was clearly visible, and one issue often became an opportunity for more drastic maneuverings.
Though its inconclusive how long Cosimo remained a captive, he was able to turn imprisonment into banishment. But it was not necessarily by choice of those who held him. As legend has it, Cosimo was not released but rather escaped by bribing the cell guard with 300 florins and the Captain with 700, much to his amusement. He is reported to have stated that they were two of the stupidest men in history as he was the wealthiest man in Italy and would have eagerly paid tens of thousands of florins to obtain his release. Cosimo made his way to Venice (a horrific place for banishment, indeed), but
The uncrowned king, the benevolent despot (such a contradiction in terms), though Cosimo never again held a political office, he did, in actuality, rule the city. As C. Hibbert quoted in his The Rise and Fall of the House of de Medici (1974, William Morrow), "Political questions are settled in Cosimo's house. The man he chooses holds office...he it is who decides peace and war...he is king in all but name."
As Cosimo's power grew, so did the depth of his pockets. Taking full control of the Medici Bank, with the help of brother Lorenzo, and all its branches throughout Europe, he eventually took over the management of the papacy's finances as well. His riches were not only in gold florins but in the form of bank and promissory notes payable to his bank in all the pivotal European financial markets. In 1462, his personal wealth blossomed yet further, obtaining from Pius II the Tolfa alum mines monopoly (alum at the time being imperative to Florence's major industry, that of textiles).
|Palazzo de Medici|
|Herod's Baquet by Donatello|
For all his wealth, for all the lavishness he plied upon others--citizens of Florence as well as personal guests--Cosimo lived simply and quietly. He dressed modestly, worked long and hard, and never ate or drank to excess. His was considered witty and mild mannered, quiet yet exceedingly brilliant.