The Medici

The Medici family, often known as the House of Medici, initially acquired riches and political influence in Florence in the thirteenth century via their commercial and banking prowess. Beginning with Cosimo de’ Medici’s (or Cosimo the Elder’s) ascent to power in 1434, the family’s support of the arts and humanities transformed Florence into the cradle of the Renaissance, a cultural blossoming only matched by ancient Greece. The Medicis produced four popes (Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV, and Leo XI), and their genes have been incorporated into numerous European royal houses. In 1737, the final Medici king died without a male successor, ending the family dynasty after nearly 300 years.

At the beginning of the Medici dynasty

In the 12th century, members of the Medici family from the Tuscan town of Cafaggiolo immigrated to Florence. Through banking and trade, the Medicis became one of the most influential families in Florence. In the late 14th century, however, their authority began to wane when Salvestro de’ Medici (then Florence’s gonfaliere, or flag bearer) was sent into exile.

Salvestro’s distant cousin Giovanni di Bicci de Medici would be the progenitor of the famed Medici dynasty through a different family branch. Cosimo, the eldest son of Giovanni, ascended to power in 1434 and governed Florence as an uncrowned monarch for the remainder of his life. Cosimo the Elder was a zealous patron of the humanities who supported painters such Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Fra Angelico. During the reigns of Cosimo, his sons, and especially his grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), the Renaissance thrived, and Florence became the cultural capital of Europe.

Medici Bank

The Medici Bank (Italian: Banco dei Medici, Banko dei mtii) was founded by the Medici dynasty in Italy in the 15th century (1397–1494). It was the largest and most esteemed bank in Europe during its prime. According to some estimates, the Medici family was the wealthiest in Europe for a time. Given that they owned art, land, and gold, it is difficult and imprecise to estimate their wealth in terms of modern currency. Initially in Florence and then throughout Italy and Europe, the family amassed political influence via acquiring this wealth.

The Medici Bank was one of Europe’s most prosperous and esteemed financial institutions. According to some estimations, the Medici family was once the wealthiest in Europe. They originally gained political power from this platform in Florence and, eventually, throughout Italy and Europe. Due to the creation of the double-entry bookkeeping method for monitoring credits and debits, they were among the first enterprises to employ the general ledger accounting system.

The Children of Cosimo de’ Medici

Lorenzo was a poet who encouraged the work of Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo, all Renaissance artists (whom the Medicis commissioned to complete their family tombs in Florence). Infuriating the populace by signing an unfavourable peace deal with France, Lorenzo’s eldest son Piero succeeded him after his untimely death at age 43. In 1494, after just two years in authority, he was expelled from the city and died in exile.

The Medici family returned to Florence in 1512, partly due to the efforts of Piero’s younger brother Giovanni (a cardinal at the time and the future Pope Leo X). As Leo X followed in his father’s humanistic footsteps and committed himself to artistic patronage, the Medici’s influence in Europe reached its zenith in the following years. Piero’s son, Lorenzo, reclaimed power in Florence, and his daughter Catherine (1519-1589) would marry King Henry II and become queen of France. Three of Catherine’s four sons would govern France.

A new Medici branch ascends to the throne.

Few descendants of Cosimo, the Elder, existed by the early 1520s. Giulio de’ Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s brother Giuliano’s illegitimate son abdicated power in 1523 to become Pope Clement VII, and Alessandro’s (believed to be Giulio’s illegitimate son) brief and ruthless tenure ended with his assassination in 1537. At this time, the descendants of Cosimo the Elder’s brother, Lorenzo the Elder (also known as Lorenzo, the Elder), stepped forward to establish a new Medici dynasty. Cosimo (1519-1574), the great-great-grandson of Lorenzo, became duke of Florence in 1537 and grand duke of Tuscany in 1569. As Cosimo I, he secured total sovereignty in the province, and his successors ruled until the 1700s as grand dukes.

Francis, the eldest son of Cosimo, succeeded his father but proved to be a less competent leader. His daughter Marie became queen of France when she wed Henry IV in 1600, and her son Louis XIII ruled France from 1610 until 1643. Francis’ younger brother Ferdinand, who became grand duke in 1587, brought security and prosperity back to Tuscany. In addition, he established the Villa Medici in Rome and transported several important items of art to Florence.

In decline is the Medici Dynasty.

The later Medici line repudiated the previous generation’s republican ideals. It imposed more authoritarian leadership, a development that brought stability to Florence and Tuscany but contributed to the region’s cultural deterioration. Florence and Tuscany suffered under ineffective Medici control after the death of Ferdinand’s son Cosimo II in 1720, who sponsored the work of mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer Galileo Galilei.

In 1737, when the last grand duke of the Medici family, Gian Gastone, died without a male heir, the family dynasty fell with him. By agreement amongst the European powers (Austria, France, England, and the Netherlands), the leadership of Tuscany was transferred to Francis of Lorraine. Her marriage to the Hapsburg heiress Maria Theresa of Austria marked the beginning of the lengthy rule of the Hapsburg-Lorraine line in Europe.

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