The Medici Family – The Leaders of Florence
“The Medici Family: The Leaders of Florence” is a series presented over the course of the next few weeks. The notorious and prominent Medici family first attained wealth and political power in Florence in the 13th century through its success in commerce and banking. The dynasty left a lasting legacy that spanned across Italy and throughout the world, as the Medici’s produced four popes and married into many of Europe’s royal families. This series takes an in depth look into the lives of Florence’s most famous family, from the humble beginnings of founder Giovanni di Bicci and his tyrant son Cosimo, to the extraordinary life of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his outstanding professional relationship with Renaissance Master Leonardo da Vinci. This week in Part III, we focus on Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici, father of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Cosimo de’ Medici’s successor was his son Piero, later called Piero “il Gottoso” or the Gouty. He was a shy reserved man given to study, meditation and the cultivation of beauty in its most intelligent forms.
In 1444, Piero married the wise, tolerant and cultured Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a link to the old Florentine nobility. They had two sons, Lorenzo, who would become Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Giuliano. Their father immediately became a sponsor of the arts and it is believed that he and his family are portrayed in the famous painting by Botticelli called “Madonna del Magnificat,” where Lucrezia Tornabuoni appears as the Virgin Mary.
During his father’s life, Piero did not play an extensive role in politics due to his perpetual poor health, particularly an extreme case of gout, the source of his nickname. He was so badly crippled that he was often able to use only his tongue. Thus his brother Giovanni was named as Cosimo’s executor, but predeceased his father. In 1461, Piero was the last Medici elected to the office of Gonfaloniere.
Upon taking over the family Medici bank from his father, Piero had a financial overview prepared. The results led him to call up a number of long-standing loans, many to various Medici supporters which his father had let stand. This immediately drove a number of the merchants involved into bankruptcy and added many to the list of those who opposed the Medici.
Piero’s time as leader of Florence was marked by an attempted coup led by Luca Pitti, Niccolò Soderini, Diotisalvi Neroni, Angelo Acciaiuoli and his cousin Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, using troops provided by Borso d’Este, Duke of Modena and Reggio, and commanded by his brother Ercole d’Este. The attack was planned for August 26, 1466; however, Piero was warned of the coup and was able to escape in part because his son Lorenzo discovered a road-block set up by the conspirators to capture Piero in his trip towards the Medici villa at Careggi. The coup failed, as did an attempted repeat backed by Venice, using troops commanded by Bartolomeo Colleoni.
In 1467, Piero had to face the war against the Republic of Venice prompted by the Florentine support given to Giangaleazzo Sforza, the new Duke of Milan. However, the Venetian army under Colleoni was defeated at the Battle of Molinella by the League of Florence, Naples, the Papal States and Milan.
Throughout his reign, Piero continued his family’s tradition of artistic patronage, sponsoring works such as Gozzoli’s fresco “Procession of the Magi,” in which he as well as his sons, Lorenzo and Giuliano are depicted. Piero continued to collect rare books, adding many to the Medici collections. Although not as brilliant a banker as his father, he was able to keep things running smoothly during his tenure.
Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici died in 1469 due to gout and lung disease and is buried in the Church of San Lorenzo next to his brother Giovanni. Upon Piero’s death, the leading citizens of Florence invited his son Lorenzo, aged only twenty, to occupy the position as ruler of the city.