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Cosimo de' Medici (1389) Options
Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 12:00:00 AM
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Cosimo de' Medici (1389)

The son of a Florentine banker, Cosimo de' Medici was an able financier who vastly expanded the family's banking business. In 1433, he was banished from the city by a rival family but returned a year later. With the support of the people, he became the first of the Medici family to rule Florence. He sought a balance of power among the Italian states and made his power as little felt as possible. He was also a noted patron of scholarship and the arts. What celebrated sculptor did he support? More...
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Medici, Cosimo de'
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Cosimo de' Medici
Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici
Cosimo di Medici (Bronzino).jpg
Portrait by Bronzino
Spouse(s) Contessina de' Bardi

Piero the Gouty
Giovanni de' Medici
Carlo di Cosimo de' Medici (illegitimate)
Full name
Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici
Noble family Medici
Father Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici
Mother Piccarda Bueri
Born 27 September 1389
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died 1 August 1464 (aged 74)
Careggi, Republic of Florence

Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici (27 September 1389 – 1 August 1464) was the first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance; also known as "Cosimo 'the Elder'" ("il Vecchio") and "Cosimo Pater Patriae" (Latin: 'father of the nation').
Family Life and Business

Born in Florence, Cosimo inherited both his wealth and his expertise in business from his father, Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici. In 1415, he accompanied the Antipope John XXIII at the Council of Constance, and in the same year he was named "Priore of the Republic." Later he acted frequently as ambassador, showing a prudence for which he became renowned.

Cosimo married Contessina de' Bardi (the daughter of Giovanni, count of Vernio, and Emilia Pannocchieschi). They had two sons: Piero the Gouty and Giovanni de' Medici. Cosimo also had an illegitimate son, Carlo de' Medici (1430-1492) by a Circassian slave who became a prelate.
The floor tomb of Cosimo de' Medici in San Lorenzo, Florence.

On his death in 1464 at Careggi, Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero "the Gouty", father of Lorenzo the Magnificent or Il Magnifico. After his death the Signoria awarded him the title Pater Patriae, "Father of his Country", an honor once awarded to Cicero, and had it carved upon his tomb in the Church of San Lorenzo.

Cosimo de' Medici used his vast fortune of an estimated 150 000 gold florins (almost 30 million USD or 22 million Euro today) to control the Florentine political system and sponsor a series of artistic accomplishments.[1]

His power over Florence stemmed from his wealth, which he used to control votes. As Florence was proud of its 'democracy', he pretended to have little political ambition, and did not often hold public office. Aeneas Sylvius, Bishop of Siena and later Pope Pius II, said of him:

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."[2]

In 1433 Cosimo's power over Florence, which he exerted without occupying public office, began to look like a menace to the anti-Medici party, led by figures such as Palla Strozzi and Rinaldo degli Albizzi: in September of that year he was imprisoned, accused for the failure of the conquest of Lucca, but he managed to turn the jail term into one of exile. He went to Padua and then to Venice, taking his bank along with him. Prompted by his influence and his money, others followed him: within a year, the flight of capital from Florence was so great that the ban of exile had to be lifted. Cosimo returned a year later in 1434, to greatly influence the government of Florence (especially through the Pitti and Soderini families) and to lead by example for the rest of his long life.
Portrait by Jacopo Pontormo; the laurel branch (il Broncone) was a symbol used also by his heirs[3]

Cosimo's time in exile instilled in him the need to squash the factionalism that resulted in his exile in the first place. In order to do this, Cosimo, with the help of favourable priors in the Signoria, instigated a series of constitutional changes to secure his power through influence.

In terms of foreign policy, Cosimo worked to create peace in Northern Italy through the creation of a balance of power between Florence, Naples, Venice and Milan during the wars in Lombardy, and discouraging outside powers (notably the French and the Holy Roman Empire) from interfering. In 1439 he was also instrumental in convincing pope Eugene IV to move the Ecumenical council of Ferrara to Florence. The arrival of notable Byzantine figures from the Empire in the East, including Emperor John VIII Palaiologos himself, started the boom of culture and arts in the city.
Cosimo Pater patriae, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Cosimo was also noted for his patronage of culture and the arts during the Renaissance, liberally spending the family fortune (which his astute business sense considerably increased) to enrich Florence. According to Salviati's Zibaldone, Cosimo stated: "All those things 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."[4] Additionally, his patronage of the arts both recognized and proclaimed the humanistic responsibility of the civic duty that came with wealth.[5]

He hired the young Michelozzo Michelozzi to create what is today perhaps the prototypical Florentine palazzo, the austere and magnificent Palazzo Medici. He was a patron and confidante of Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Donatello, whose famed David and Judith Slaying Holofernes were Medici commissions. Cosimo's patronage enabled the eccentric and bankrupt architect Brunelleschi to complete the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (the "Duomo") which was perhaps his crowning achievement as sponsor.

In the realm of philosophy, Cosimo, influenced by the lectures of Gemistus Plethon, supported Marsilio Ficino and his attempts at reviving Neo-Platonism. Cosimo commissioned Ficino's Latin translation of the complete works of Plato (the first ever complete translation) and collected a vast library which he shared with intellectuals such as Niccolo Niccoli and Leonardo Bruni.[6] He provided his grandson, Lorenzo il Magnifico, with an education in the studia humanitatis. Cosimo had an inestimable influence on Renaissance intellectual life.

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Born in 1386, just three years before Cosimo de'Medici, Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi was known as Donatello. The son of a Florentine wool-carder, by 14 he was learning sculpture. In 1404, he was apprenticed to Lorenzo Ghiberti, the famous goldsmith, and Donatello learned his bronze expertise from this master craftsman.

It's not known how Donatello and Cosimo de'Medici became friends. They shared a fascination with the ancient world and lived in close proximity, so their paths must have crossed.

Soon Donatello was consulted on the quality of the antiques and texts rescued by Cosimo and his friends. In 1419, Cosimo nominated Donatello to sculpt a tomb for the dead pirate pope, Baldassare Cossa, which would be placed inside the Baptistry. Cosimo and his father provided the funding and Donatello cast an amazing bronze likeness of the scandalous pope, bushy eyebrows and all. With Cosimo's help, Donatello was a building a reputation for versatility and emotional realism.

Donatello was not a popular person, but in his sculptures he managed to capture life itself. Every look and gesture was rich in humanity and personality. He was known to mutter “speak, damn you, speak!” at his figures as he worked.

He was so passionate about them, he would smash them rather than sell to ignorant clients. He only trusted a few people including Cosimo de'Medici. Cosimo would defend his friend from slander and insults about Donatello's homosexuality, which was then illegal in Florence.

Cosimo's artists were tolerated because of their talent, and Donatello knew he had the luxury of behaving badly. Before Cosimo, artists were dismissed as mere journeymen, no better than masons. Now, they were encouraged to exercise their “artistic temperament”.

In 1434, following his triumph over the enemies of the Medici, Cosimo requested a special commission from his friend. A statue of an Old Testament hero, symbolizing triumph against the odds. Donatello's bronze “David” broke all the rules.

A playful, sensuous, and androgynous hero, “David” was the first life-size nude to be cast in bronze since Classical times.

To create such a homoerotic hero could have been seriously dangerous for Donatello without the support of the Medici. Cosimo placed the statue in the center of the courtyard of the Medici Palace where it was visible to all. Underneath it, he had inscribed,

“The victor is whoever defends the fatherland. God crushes the wrath of an enormous foe. Behold - a boy overcame a great tyrant! Conquer, O citizens! Kingdoms fall through luxury, cities rise through virtues. Behold the neck of pride, severed by the hand of humility”

In the 1450s Donatello began work on a terrifying statue, the most vivid of his career. The “Penitent Mary Magdalen”, carved for the baptistry of Florence, is an eloquent vision of fear and decay, perhaps brought on by the realization of Donatello's own mortality.

Within 10 years of its completion, he was dead.

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