Michelangelo’s famous ‘Creation Of Adam’ Sistine Chapel scene
Origins: Merchant Bankers
The House of Medici started out as an Italian Banking family, that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de’ Medici in the Republic of Florence during the first half of the 15th century. The family originated in the Mugello region of the Tuscan countryside, gradually rising until they were able to fund the Medici Bank. The Bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century, seeing the Medici gain political power in Florence — though officially they remained citizens rather than monarchs.
Medici Family Crest
The Medici produced three Popes of the Catholic Church—Pope Leo X (1513–1521), Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), and Pope Leo XI (1605). Their wealth and influence initially derived from the textile trade guided by the guild of the Arte della Lana. Like other families ruling in Italian signorie, the Medicis dominated their city’s government, were able to bring Florence under their family’s power, and created an environment where art and humanism could flourish. They, along with other families of Italy—such as the Visconti and Sforza of Milan, the Este of Ferrara, and the Gonzaga of Mantua—fostered and inspired the birth of the Italian Renaissance.
The Medici Bank was one of the most prosperous and most respected institutions in Europe. There are some estimates that the Medici family were the wealthiest family in Europe for a time. From this base, they acquired political power initially in Florence and later in wider Italy and Europe. A notable contribution to the profession of accounting was the improvement of the general ledger system through the development of the double-entry bookkeeping system for tracking credits and debits. The Medici family were among the earliest businesses to use the system.
Patrons Of The Arts
The biggest contributions of the Medici were in the sponsorship of Art and Architecture, mainly early and High Renaissance Art and Architecture. The most significant addition to the list over the years was Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), who produced work for a number of Medici, beginning with Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was said to be extremely fond of the young Michelangelo, inviting him to study the family collection of antique sculpture.
Family Patriarch: Cosimo de’ Medici
Lorenzo also served as patron to Leonardo da Vinci for seven years. Indeed, Lorenzo was an artist in his own right, and author of poetry and song; his support of the arts and letters is seen as a high point in Medici patronage.
The family is also well known to have been the patrons of the famous Galileo Galilei, who tutored multiple generations of Medici children, and was an important figurehead for his patron’s quest for power.
When Galileo found himself persecuted for Heresy by the Catholic Church due to his Scientific work now forming the backbone of modern Astronomy, the Medici family afforded Galileo a safe haven for many years.
The story of the Medici Family is one of Family ambition.
The Family’s success as Merchant Bankers enabled them to penetrate the Italian Aristocracy even though they had started out as ‘Commoners’. Their contribution to Culture in the form of Renaissance Art, Philosophy and Science also deserves respect.
The ‘Medici Blueprint’ has subsequently been followed by other Dynastic Families like the ‘Rockefellers’ and the ‘House of Rothschild’ whom we also looked at as part of the ‘Family Business’ series.
Meanwhile you can read more on the Medici’s on the link below, as well as watching the Medici Family Documentary in the ‘Politics & History’ section of our YouTube Channel.
Links & Credits
Medici Family Legacy: http://www.history.com/topics/medici-family