Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492)

Ruler of Florence

Unofficial ruler of republican Florence during the Renaissance period,
who was a poet, diplomatist, and celebrated patron of the arts.



Lorenzo de' Medici was born on January 1, 1449, in Florence, an independent Italian city-state republic famous then as now for its artistic and intellectual achievements during what scholars call the Italian Renaissance. After 1434, his grandfather Cosimo had established the Medici family's dominant position within the oligarchic group which governed this republic, and from birth Lorenzo was destined to assume Cosimo's role. This was made clear at Lorenzo's baptism on January 6, 1449, which was attended not only by so celebrated a figure as the archbishop of Florence, Antoninus (later to be canonized), but by official representatives of several important governmental bodies. His parents, Piero de' Medici and Lucrezia Tornabuoni (herself from an ancient and powerful Florentine family), brought up Lorenzo conventionally enough, no doubt to avoid arousing envy in the minds of their peers, many of whom were suspicious of Medici political intentions. Like other patrician children, Lorenzo had his own resident tutor, the priest Gentile Becchi, who reported when his charge was only five how splendidly his humanist studies were progressing--a theme he was to repeat as the young Lorenzo worked his way through the masterpieces of Latin literature and history during the 1450s. From an early age, Lorenzo showed exceptional ability and promise, as even one of his severest contemporary critics, Alamanno Rinuccini, was to admit. As boys together, Rinuccini writes, he had seen in Lorenzo: an intelligence so pliable and versatile that, in boyish things, whatever he set his mind to he learned and mastered better than did others, dancing, bowmanship, singing, riding, playing games, performing on musical instruments and many other things.
Indeed, as early as 14 or 15, Lorenzo began to write poetry in the Italian vernacular which would still command the respect of literary critics even were its author not the famous public figure, Lorenzo de' Medici. Although these early verses were in a
sense exercises, which inevitably adopted the themes and reworked the poetic techniques of such masters as Francesco Petrarca and Dante Alighieri, Lorenzo was a serious writer who throughout his life produced poetry of increasing independence and virtuosity, tinkering with it almost obsessively. (Most of his poetry is very hard to date as a result of this constant reworking). Some of Lorenzo's early verse was set to music, and contemporary correspondence make it clear that music-making, dining and courtship, amidst parties at elegant villas in the country, was a major activity of his youthful company of intimates, which included his brother-in-law Bernardo Rucellai, friends such as Braccio Martelli and the major vernacular poet, Luigi Pulci. It was Pulci who wrote in 1465 that Lorenzo's "genius is quicker than anybody else's."
Lorenzo's precocious brilliance as an adolescent was also manifested in the rapidity with which he learned the ropes of interstate diplomacy and the political management within Florence. He has sometimes been depicted by later historians as a Renaissance playboy with intellectual leanings, at least until his father's death in 1469, but nothing is further from the truth. Certainly after his grandfather Cosimo's death in August 1464, Lorenzo's participation in public affairs is increasingly evident. Since the health of Piero de' Medici was poor, the Medici family seems to have been intent on grooming Lorenzo to replace his father, as Piero had just replaced Cosimo. Piero de' Medici began quite early to send his son on quasi-diplomatic missions, as when in the late spring of 1465 the adolescent Lorenzo visited the Sforza duchy of Milan for the wedding of Ippolita Sforza and Alfonso of Aragon, accompanied by fatherly advice to be "alert, a man and not a boy, and make every effort to be both careful and clever in learning how to undertake even greater tasks, for this outing can show the world what you can do." Early in the next year, Lorenzo visited the court of the Kingdom of Naples, enjoying a papal audience in Rome on the way.

Elected to the Council of One Hundred

Within Florence, Lorenzo began to assume political office, usually by special dispensation because of his extreme youth; so in December 1466 he was elected to the important Council of One Hundred, "notwithstanding his being