The Tuscan Medici family is rife with hidden history. It could be characterized as a Middle Ages version of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The wealth of the family stemmed from the patriarch Giovanni de’ Medici (1360-1429), who opened bank branches in Rome, Geneva, Venice and temporarily in Naples. The majority of profits were derived from Rome. But the fonte of Medici wealth was as the papal depositario generale, which managed Church finances in return for a commission.
It is fair to start with the good first- Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464). He was advised by his father to carry himself modestly. He was the antithesis of a prima donna and the diametric opposite of what infests our world today. There was no 4-D chess here. He was always viewed as primus inter pares (“first among equals”) rather than an autocrat.
He ate and drank moderately and lived simply and worked long, regular hours. He dressed without ostentation and was accessible to the humblest Florentine. His generosity, mildness and wit were legendary. Upon his death on Aug. 1, 1464, a grateful city decreed that on his tomb should be inscribed the words “Pater Patriae” (father of his country).
Cosimo also adopted the policy of supporting the lesser guilds and the poor against the wealthy aristocracy that ruled the city. Cosimo reformed the system of taxation, changing from a fixed income tax to a graduated one. The middle class and the poorer citizens, who were Cosimo’s strength, were delighted and became even more ardent in their support, particularly when they saw that the funds gained through taxation, amplified by substantial contributions from Cosimo’s own pocket, were put to use in public projects.
Cosimo faced trials and tribulations, including imprisonment and exile, which is all nicely covered in the series “Medici: Master of Florence.” Although I don’t think the real calmer Cosimo was as dramatic as portrayed, there is a smart treatment of usury and parasite-guildism aspects in the series.
The Trouble With Bloodlines
The Medici family also reveals how powerful lines can morph and become totally corrupt in latter generations, which we will discuss in tomorrow’s post on the Medici Pope Leo X (1475-1521).
But Cosimo, as a philanthropist, was driven by something rarely seen from the manipulative foul-agenda foundations operating today. His patronage of the arts and of building projects both recognized and proclaimed the humanistic responsibility of the civic duty that came with wealth. His was a completely different mindset than that seen among the 20th and 21st century Crime Syndicate gangster oligarchs operating today. This model difference would be a prime topic of study in my hypothetical “Winter School of Government”.
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 50 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.”
Cosimo spent his money glorifying Florence, and proceeded with patience and determination. He had the ability to think outside the box for his times and had a keen ability to utilize talents few others saw. Hence, the term “renaissance man.” Most would argue that Cosimo was an antiquarian who primarily bridged the gap between the “lost” knowledge of the classical age, and brought it back to good use in his era. But I think in fact he had a rare and deep instinct and intuition.
The story of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower in Florence can be gleaned here. To make a long story short, the original structure had no dome, primarily because putting one on exceeded the engineering ability of that era.
Cosimo put his money and prestige on the line by backing Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), who others considered eccentric and difficult. Cosimo, however, had the gift of people skills combined with his wealth and determination. At considerable risk, the dome project succeeded.
Brunelleschi described his design with an egg, according to Vasari, “giving one end a blow on the flat piece of marble, made it stand upright … The architects protested that they could have done the same; but Filippo answered, laughing, that they could have made the dome, if they had seen his design.”
Brunelleschi went on to engineer and build the following Florence landmarks, mostly at the expense of his patron, Cosimo.
- Dome of the Florence Cathedral (1419–1436)
- Ospedale degli Innocenti (1419–1445)
- The Basilica of San Lorenzo (1419–1480s)
- Meeting Hall of the Palazzo di Parte Guelfa (1420s–1445)
- Sagrestia Vecchia, or Old Sacristy of S. Lorenzo (1421–1440)
- Santa Maria degli Angeli, unfinished (begun 1434)
- The lantern of Florence Cathedral (1436–1450)
- The exedrae of Florence Cathedral (1439–1445)
- The church of Santo Spirito (1441–1481)
- Pazzi Chapel (1441–1460s)
Cosimo employed the architectural skills of Michelozzo to build his palace and, in 1437, the Dominican convent of S. Marco. His largess was enjoyed not only by architects and scholars but also by some of the greatest sculptors and painters of the quattrocento, among them Donatello and Fra Filippo Lippi.
Naturally, this enhanced Cosimo’s political prestige, which is exactly what civic humanism is all about. Even his foes and rivals were applauding. An anti-civic humanist system is what we have in play today in which “achievements” are often faked PR and empty suits being constantly promoted by a corrupt press and a captured educational system. I’m losing track of how many of those we have revealed on these pages.
Francesco Guicciardini, author of “The History of Italy,” wrote, “Cosimo de’ Medici … [was] a citizen of rare wisdom and inestimable riches, and therefore most celebrated all over Europe, especially because he had spent over 400,000 ducats in building churches, monasteries and other sumptuous edifices not only in his own country but in many other parts of the world, doing all this with admirable magnificence and truly regal spirit.”
The best biography of Cosimo is still Dorothea Ewart Vernon’s “Cosimo de’ Medici” written in 1899, before the modernist historical rackets got hold of him. The following video provides a nice and uplifting change of pace for Winter Watch readers.