Lorenzo de' Medici (January 1, 1449 – 9 April 1492) was an Italian statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance. Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent (Lorenzo il Magnifico) by contemporary Florentines, he was a diplomat, politician and patron of scholars, artists, and poets. His life coincided with the high point of the early Italian Renaissance; his death marked the end of the Golden Age of Florence. The fragile peace he helped maintain between the various Italian states collapsed with his death; two years later the French invasion of 1494 began and led to nearly 400 years of foreign occupation of the Italian peninsula.
His grandfather, Cosimo de Medici, became the first of the Medici to combine running the Medici bank with leading the Republic in both government and philanthropy, spending an enormous portion of his fortune (he was one of the wealthiest men in all of Europe) on art and public works. Lorenzo's father, Piero 'the Gouty' de' Medici, was also at the center of Florentine life, and extremely active as a patron and collector. His mother Lucrezia Tornabuoni was also a dilettante poet and friend to figures like Luigi Pulci and Agnolo Poliziano.
He was considered the brightest of the five children. He was tutored by Gentile Becchi, a diplomat. He partook in jousting, hawking, hunting, and breeding horses for the palio, a horse race in Siena. His own horse was named Morello.
Piero sent Lorenzo on many important diplomatic missions when he was still a youth. These included trips to Rome to meet with the pope and other important religious and political figures.
Lorenzo, groomed for power, assumed a leading role in the state upon the death of his father in 1469, when Lorenzo was twenty. Lorenzo had little success in running the bank, and its assets contracted seriously during the course of his lifetime.
Lorenzo, like his father and grandfather, ruled Florence indirectly, through surrogates in the city councils, through threats, payoffs, strategic marriages - all the tools of despotism. Although Florence flourished under Lorenzo's rule, he effectively ruled as a despot and people had little freedom. It was inevitable that rival families should harbor resentments as to Medici dominance, and enemies of the Medici remained a factor in Florentine life long after Lorenzo's passing.
On Easter Sunday, April 26, 1478, in an incident called the Pazzi Conspiracy, a group including members of the Pazzi family, backed by the Archbishop of Pisa and his patron Pope Sixtus IV, attacked Lorenzo and his co-ruler brother Giuliano in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo was stabbed but escaped; however the attackers managed to kill Giuliano. The conspiracy was brutally put down, with measures including the lynching of the archbishop.
In the aftermath of the Pazzi conspiracy and the punishment of the Pope's supporters, the Medici and Florence suffered from the wrath of the Pope. He seized all the Medici assets he could find, excommunicated Lorenzo and the entire government of Florence, and ultimately put the city under interdict. When that had little effect, the Pope formed a military alliance with King Ferdinand I of Naples, whose son, Alfonso, Duke of Calabria launched an invasion.
Lorenzo rallied the citizens. However, with little help being provided by traditional Medici allies in Bologna and Milan (the latter being convulsed by power struggles among the Sforza), the war dragged on, and only diplomacy by Lorenzo, who personally traveled to Naples, resolved the crisis. This enabled him to secure constitutional changes that enhanced his power.
Thereafter, Lorenzo, like his grandfather Cosimo de' Medici, pursued a policy of maintaining both peace and a balance of power between the northern Italian states and of keeping other states out of Italy.
Lorenzo's court included artists such as Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti who were involved in the 15th century Renaissance. Although he did not commission many works himself, he helped them secure commissions from other patrons. Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for several years, dining at the family table and attending meetings of the Neo-Platonic Academy.
Lorenzo was an artist himself, writing poetry in his native Tuscan. In his poetry he celebrates life even while—particularly in his later works—acknowledging with melancholy the fragility and instability of the human condition. Love, feasts and light dominate his verse.
Cosimo had started the collection of books which became the Medici Library (also called the Laurentian Library) and Lorenzo expanded it. Lorenzo's agents retrieved from the East large numbers of classical works, and he employed a large workshop to copy his books and disseminate their content across Europe. He supported the development of humanism through his circle of scholarly friends who studied Greek philosophers, and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity; among this group were the philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.
During his tenure, several branches of the family bank collapsed because of bad loans, and, in later years, he got into financial difficulties and resorted to mis-appropriating trust and state funds.
Toward the end of Lorenzo's life, Florence came under the spell of Savonarola, who believed Christians had strayed too far into Greco-Roman culture. Lorenzo played a role in bringing Savonarola to Florence.
Lorenzo de' Medici died during the night of April 8th/9th, 1492, at the long-time family villa of Careggi (Florentine reckoning considers days to begin at sunset, so his death date is the 9th in that reckoning). Savonarola visited Lorenzo on his death bed. The rumor that Savonarola damned Lorenzo on his deathbed has been refuted by Roberto Ridolfi in his book, Vita di Girolamo Savonarola. Letters written by witnesses to Lorenzo's death report Lorenzo died a consoled man, on account of the blessing Savonarola gave him. As Lorenzo died, the tower of the church of Santa Reparata was allegedly struck by lightning. He and his brother Giuliano are buried in a chapel designed by Michelangelo, the New Sacristy; it is located adjacent to the north transept of the Church of San Lorenzo and is reached by passing through the main Capella di Medici; the chapel is ornamented with famous sculptures, and some of the original working drawings of Michelangelo can still be distinguished on two of the walls.
He died at the dawn of "The Age of Exploration"; Christopher Columbus would reach the "New World" only six months later. With his death, the center of the Renaissance shifted from Florence to Rome, where it would remain for the next century and beyond.
Lorenzo married twice.
Lorenzo first married Clarice Orsini by proxy on February 7, 1469. She was a daughter of Giacomo Orsini, Lord of Monterotondo and Bracciano by his wife and cousin Maddalena Orsini. They had nine children:
After Clarice's death, he married Philippina (Philippa) of Savoy, daughter of Philip II, Duke of Savoy. The couple had no children.
Two of his sons later became powerful popes. His second son, Giovanni, became Pope Leo X, and his adopted son Giulio (who was the illegitimate son of his slain brother Giuliano) became Pope Clement VII.
His first son and his political heir, Piero 'the Unfortunate', squandered his father's patrimony and brought down his father's dynasty in Florence. Another Medici, his brother Giovanni, restored it, but it was only made wholly secure again on the accession of a distant relative from a branch line of the family, Cosimo I de' Medici.