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John Fowls wrote that, “In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization’s hardest winters” (1969). He could not have been more correct. The world before the Renaissance was bleak; a place filled with war, plagues, and poverty. The Renaissance brought (among other concepts) beauty, art, humanitarianism, and increased mercantilism. The birth place of the Renaissance, Florence, Italy, was also home to an influential family, the Medici. The Medici were a critical factor regarding the prosperity of the Renaissance.
While it is a fairly specific time period, the Renaissance is, arguably, more a movement in society than an actual historical period. Spanning from around 1400 to 1600, the Renaissance brought changes and evolution to the arts, sciences, religious ideas, and philosophy (Szalay 2016). It is during this period that some of the most notable pieces of art (Sistine Chapel, Mona Lisa, etc.) and most innovative scientific ideas and inventions (the printing press, Galileo’s telescope, etc.) came about. The belief that progress conflicted with piety was gradually discarded, freeing people to learn and create in new ways.
In the wake of the Black Plague, many families seized the opportunity to improve their social standing and wealth. The Black Plague claimed the lives of many in Europe, and those who held public positions were not immune. The Medici family resettled in Florence, Italy; and like others, began to rise into prominent positions within the city (Szalay 2016). Through out the Renaissance period, the Medici were an influential family, holding connections to many other families and the Catholic Church. They were prosperous financially, and ardent supporters of the arts across two centuries.
Florence was a place of wealth during the Renaissance. This was partially due to the successfulness of mercantilism and geographic location. Another side of Florence’s financial prosperity was the Medici family. The Medici owned a bank in Florence, and one in Rome. The financial brilliance of their bank lay with the Catholic Church. The Medici bank collected tithes for Roman Catholics, and those who did not pay faced excommunication from the church (PBS 2018). Being associated with the Catholic Church brought the Medici not only high-volume business, but Papal connections as well. Their business afforded their family an extravagant lifestyle, prominence in politics and the community, and the means in which to support the arts. Additionally, it brought a certain stability to the area. Their business also helped the merchants and artisans of Florence flourish as it brought business to the area.
The Medici were a prominent family in Florence, Italy during the Renaissance. With their social status, they developed many connections that provided them with many advantages. As noted they had connections to the Pope and the Catholic Church due to their bank. This provided the Medici family with an advantage regarding legislation, policies, and governmental appointments. The Medici used these advantages to place friends and family members in high ranking or notable positions throughout the community. In doing so, they created a “favor system” (PBS 2018). Not only did the Medici use these owed favors to gain more advantages financially and politically, but they also used these favors as a way to support the artisans of the Renaissance.
Many wealthy families supported the arts during the Renaissance by commissioning work to be done. It was considered a symbol of wealth to have artwork created by certain artists. The Medici were avid supporters of artists throughout their generations. Cosimo, the original patriarch of the family during the Renaissance, commissioned works from Donatello; and his grandson, Lorenzo, commissioned works many notable Renaissance artists, such as Botticelli, Verrocchio, and Michelangelo (DailyHistory.org 2017). Not only were the Medici ardent patrons of artists, but also of philosophers and merchants of the time. This contributed to a culture in which new techniques and advancements in a variety of domains were sought after.
Notably, another Medici was also a critical supporter of the arts and instrumental figure. Pope Leo X, formerly Giovanni de’ Medici, commissioned a significant amount of art and architecture from a variety of notable artists. He primarily commissioned Raphael for art, including several frescoes; and he commissioned Michelangelo for many pieces of architecture and sculptures (TheMediciFamily.com 2018). Additionally, his position within the Catholic Church enabled him the leverage to allow the Medici family to return to Florence following a period of exile during the late 1400’s- early 1500’s (History.com 2018) Upon the family’s return, they also quickly engaged in support of the arts, sciences, and humanistic philosophies that are indicative of the Renaissance.
The Renaissance was an incredible time to be alive. People were challenging boundaries in science, art, and religion; and, were discovering a great deal of beneficial information in the process. This could not have happened without the support of families like the Medici. The support of the Medici family of art during the Renaissance was multi-faceted. They not only provided patronage, but also created a thriving environment for the Renaissance to transpire through their business and political connections.
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