Medici, Cosimo de' 1389–1464 Florentine Banker and Statesman

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Medici, Cosimo de'
Florentine banker and

Born into the powerful Medici family of Florence, in the Tuscan region of Italy, Cosimo de' Medici became a leading citizen and patron* of the arts. He also served as head of the bank that was the foundation of Medici wealth and influence.

Political Influence. The Medici were part of Florence's ruling class from at least 1291. But the family's fortunes rose after Giovanni di Bicci, Cosimo's father, founded the Florentine branch of the bank in the 1390s. By the time Cosimo and his brother took over in 1420, the Medici bank handled much of the business of the papal* court. Cosimo had great ability as a banker, and the family bank expanded and prospered under his direction. It reached the height of its influence by the 1450s, when it had branches or partners throughout western Europe.

As the elder son, Cosimo de' Medici inherited his father's political influence. Cosimo advised the city council and was often a leader in diplomatic* missions to other states. He also engaged in local politics and power struggles in Florence. By the late 1420s the Medici family had grown to 27 households in Florence. They used their increasing wealth and reputation to win followers and promote the appointment of their friends to public office.

The Medici and their followers, led by Cosimo and his cousin Averardo, became Florence's leading political party. As they gained power, they began to face opposition. In 1433 political opponents managed to have Cosimo and other Medici leaders exiled from Florence. However, the city soon recognized that it needed Cosimo to finance its wars and conduct relations with foreign royalty. A pro-Medici government recalled Cosimo to Florence in 1434 and openly acknowledged him as its leading citizen. In the 1450s Cosimo turned over direction of the bank to his sons, but he remained involved in both business and politics. In 1454 he negotiated the Peace of Lodi, which ended half a century of warfare among several Italian states, including Florence.

Artistic Patronage. Throughout his life, Cosimo devoted attention to the arts. Like other prominent Renaissance citizens, the Medici purchased artwork for public display and private use. They often hired artists such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, and Fra Angelico to produce important pieces.

In 1419 Cosimo and his father commissioned a statue of St. Matthew by Ghiberti to decorate one of Florence's civic buildings. A few years later they oversaw the construction of a papal tomb, which featured work by Donatello. Cosimo also paid for and supervised the rebuilding of the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. Under Medici leadership, the restoration of this church symbolized the rise of the family's power.

In the late 1450s, Cosimo completed a magnificent new residence, the Palazzo Medici, which combined classical* elements with traditional Florentine features. It was filled with fine artwork, including Donatello's David, a bronze statue. As a patron of literature, Cosimo sponsored the work of the philosopher Marsilio Ficino as well as scholars who discovered lost classical manuscripts. He also assembled a large library and donated books to the collections of religious houses.

Although some critics feared that Cosimo de' Medici's power was a threat to Florence's republican* government, most Florentines saw him as a statesman who had protected the city's independence and brought peace. Not long after Cosimo's death, the government of Florence declared him Pater patriae, the "father of his country."

(See alsoMedici, House of. )

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope

* diplomatic

having to do with formal relations between nations

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* republican

refers to a form of Renaissance government dominated by leading merchants with limited participation by others

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Medici, Cosimo de' 1389–1464 Florentine Banker and Statesman

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Medici, Cosimo de' 1389–1464 Florentine Banker and Statesman