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The Medici Family, Patrons of the Florentine Renaissance

Florence, Italy

Florence’s leading banking family was the great patron of the Renaissance. They nurtured and employed the great artists of their time while funding lavish chapels, churches, and the grand city hall in a way that bolstered their political power.

Complete Video Script

[35, Palazzo Medici Riccardi Garden] You can't have an art boom without money. And the Medici family, who ruled Florence for generations from palaces like this, was loaded. The statues in their gardens are another reminder that, more and more, art was to be enjoyed by a wealthy secular elite.

[36, Palazzo Medici Riccardi Garden] The art-loving Medici hosted lots of famous artists, philosophers, and poets. Imagine…a teenage Michelangelo lived with them almost as an adopted son. Leonardo da Vinci played the lute at their parties. And Botticelli actually studied the classical statues that dotted their gardens.

[37, Gozzoli fresco, 1459, Magi Chapel, Palazzo Medici Riccardi] In their lavishly frescoed family chapel, this biblical king is actually a magnificently dressed Medici ruler. In all his Florentine finery, he leads his family through a Tuscan landscape.

[38, Gozzoli fresco, 1459, Magi Chapel, Palazzo Medici Riccardi] The chapel doubled as the place the Medici received important guests. And by portraying their family in this religious setting, the Medici made an impressive display of power and sophistication. When potential rivals would drop by and see this, they could only think, "Damn, those Medici are good."

[39, Piazza della Signoria, Florence] Florence's City Hall became the Medicis' personal palace (with their offices, or uffici next door — now a gallery showcasing the greatest paintings of this period). Michelangelo's David (this one's a replica) originally stood here, a suitable mascot for both the family and the city they ruled. The elaborate courtyard, with its Roman inspired decoration, is quintessential Renaissance.

[40] In the enormous main room of the City Hall, 500 guests could gather surrounded by dazzling art — which was actually powerful Medici propaganda: Florence beating rival city-states, thanks to the Medici…the Medici duke was dressed like an emperor…and blessed by the pope…who was also a Medici — talk about having a well-connected banker. The ancient hero Hercules, whose labors earned him the status of a demigod, reminded all of the accomplishments of their feared and admired leading family.

[41, Medici Chapel, 1527, Michelangelo] The Medici even died in luxury, buried in the family chapel. This is a good example of Renaissance aesthetics with circles, squares, and symmetry. Its statues so realistic and noble and its striking lack of Christian iconography, celebrate the humanism of the age — honoring great individuals comfortable in the company of God.