The Medicis were a wealthy, politically powerful Florentine family in the 14th century. They made their fortune in banking and commerce, and are best known as arts patrons whose financial support of the arts and humanities helped make Renaissance-era Florence a thriving cultural center, according to the History Channel.
The best known member of the Medici dynasty is Cosimo di Medici (1389-1464). Known as "Cosimo the Elder," he was an unofficial monarch of Florence from 1434 until his death. During that time, he supported many historically important artists, including Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello and Fra Angelico. Florentine Renaissance culture thrived under his influence as well as that of his descendants, including his grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492).
Lorenzo supported the work of Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and even commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt the Medici family tombs. After Lorenzo's death, his son Piero took the helm, but he was an unpopular ruler, and the Medicis were forced out of Italy during his rule in 1494. They didn't return until 1512, when Piero's brother Giovanni (later inaugurated as Pope Leo X) re-established the Medici presence and continued their legacy of arts patronage. Piero’s son, also named Lorenzo, went on to rule Florence once more, and his daughter Catherine (1519-1589) became the queen of France through a marriage to King Henry II.