In adopting the Ordinances of Justice in 1293, the city of florence provided itself with a republican form of government that lasted at least formally for over two centuries. The outstanding political event of this period was the rise to power of the Medici family, which dominated political life in Florence throughout most of the 15th century. The Medici also ruled as grand dukes of Tuscany in an unbroken line from 1530 until 1737, when the duchy passed into the control of the House of Austria. The power of the family rested on its enormous wealth in the first phase of its prominence and upon personal family ties with ruling houses of Europe in the second.
Notable Members of the Family. Early in the 13th century individual Medici left their agrarian holdings at Cafaggiolo in the mountainous Mugello region north of Florence to make their way in the expanding commune. The name of Bonagiunta appears in an act of 1221. When the government of the priors was formed in 1282, the Medici were enrolled in the greater guilds as leading merchants. In 1291 Ardingo de' Medici served as a prior and in 1296, was elected gonfalonier, the highest office in the city. The family continued to grow in prestige during the subsequent century. Salvestro (1331–88) identified the family with popular causes by his role in the Ciompi revolt in 1378. Giovanni di Bicci (1360–1429), a shrewd and single-minded businessman, built up one of the greatest fortunes in Florence. He was absorbed in finances, was not politically ambitious, and failed to assume the role of advocate of the common people, but he nevertheless captured their sympathy by his liberality, constructing the church of S. Lorenzo, the Hospital of the Innocents, and the tomb of the antipope John XXIII, erected by Donatello and Michelozzo. The Albizzi oligarchy, which assumed power in 1382, was relatively permissive and allowed Giovanni to serve as prior repeatedly and as gonfalonier in 1421.
The break between the Albizzi and Medici developed under the rule of Rinaldo degli Albizzi and Giovanni's son Cosimo (1389–1464). Rinaldo undertook a popular war to subdue neighboring Lucca, failed to win, and on May 10, 1433 made an unsatisfactory peace. Civic sentiment swung in favor of Cosimo, who had been critical of Rinaldo's bungling. Rinaldo exiled Cosimo and his brother Lorenzo to Venice. On Sept. 1, 1434, a pro-Medici government took office and recalled Cosimo from exile. He then ruled the city by carefully controlling the public offices through a committee of ten electors, who appointed the members of the signory. Cosimo, in a rule of 30 years, allowed himself to be elected gonfalonier only three times, in 1435, 1439, and 1445, and for the rest of the time ruled indirectly. In directing the foreign policy of Florence, Cosimo's major aim was to achieve security and stability through the preservation of a balance of power and an emphasis on the common interests of the Italian city-states as opposed to the major powers of northern Europe. In order to prevent a Venetian hegemony to the north, he backed the sforzas of Milan with subsidies. In 1454 Venice and Milan signed the Peace of Lodi, which was accepted by Florence and Naples. The power configuration thenceforth rested on a combination of Milan, Florence, and Naples on one side, and Venice and the states of the church on the other.
Under Cosimo the family fortune expanded most rapidly. The Medici had one partnership in silk manufacturing and two in cloth manufacturing under a putting out or "wholesale handicraft" system. But the main source of their enormous wealth was their bank, one of the banchi grossi (great banks), which dealt in merchandise and exchange in all parts of the world. They combined foreign trade and dealing in bills of exchange, the trade being more significant than their banking operation as such. When Cosimo succeeded Giovanni in 1429 the house had branches in Venice and at the papal court. New branches were subsequently established in Pisa, Milan, Geneva (moved to Lyons in 1466), Avignon, Bruges, and London. The Medici bank was a decentralized combination of separate partnerships. Cosimo maintained a close vigil over the operation of all the branches, but his son Piero (1416–69) and grandson Lorenzo relaxed their grip on the managers. Lorenzo, preoccupied with politics, diplomacy, art, and letters, failed to give the business adequate attention and permitted disastrous loans to princes, so that under Lorenzo the Medici bank began a precipitous decline.
Cosimo's son Piero was in poor health and died five years after his father. He and his wife, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a lady of great piety, had two sons, Lorenzo il Magnifico (1449–92) and Giuliano (1453–78). Lorenzo's good relations with Sixtus IV were strained when the pope's nephew Girolamo riario sought to build a territorial holding for himself in central Italy. In 1473 the Riario kept Florence from acquiring Imola, and in 1478 he connived in the pazzi revolt, which was triggered by the assassination of Giuliano during Mass in the cathedral on April 26. Lorenzo escaped to the vestry; he quickly
quashed the conspiracy. The war with the pope and King Ferrante of Naples that followed went badly for Florence, which was threatened by Venice in the North. Lorenzo then "risked his own life to restore peace to his country," as machiavelli put it later, by his dramatic journey to Naples to make a personal appeal to Ferrante for peace. Lorenzo's diplomacy was directed toward the same goal as Cosimo's had been, security and stability for the Italian city-states. As a great patron of the humanists and artists, he presided over the flowering of Renaissance culture in Florence, favoring the Neoplatonic philosophers, and writing sonnets, lyrics, eclogues, and other literary pieces in the vernacular.
Two years after Lorenzo's death his licentious son Piero (1471–1503) was driven out by the people when the French under Charles VIII invaded Italy. After the savonarola episode and republican interval, Piero's son Lorenzo (1492–1519) restored Medici rule. He was the father of catherine de mÉdicis, who became queen of France. In 1527 the Medici were driven out again, but in 1530 Alessandro, Lorenzo's natural son, was made hereditary ruler of Florence by Emperor charles v. In 1537 Lorenzino de' Medici (1514–47) murdered Alessandro. The able and utterly ruthless condottiere Cosimo I (1519–74), a great-great-grandson of Lorenzo, Cosimo the Elder's brother, with the help of imperial troops made himself ruler. In 1570 Pius V crowned him grand duke of Tuscany, a position that his descendants held until Gian Gastone de' Medici's death in 1737, when the Hapsburgs took possession of their territories. The family through the centuries contributed to the Church many high clergymen, notably Popes leo x (giovanni), clement vii (giulio), and leo xi (alessandro ottaviano).
Bibliography: g. a. brucker, Florentine Politics and Society, 1343–1378 (Princeton 1962), on Salvestro and early Medicis. f. schevill, History of Florence (New York 1936); The Medici (New York 1949). r. a. de roover, The Medici Bank (New York 1948). k. d. e. vernon, Cosimo de' Medici (New York 1899). k.s. gutkind, Cosimo de' Medici (Oxford 1938). e. armstrong, Lorenzo de' Medici (New York 1896). e. l. s. horsburgh, Lorenzo the Magnificent and Florence in her Golden Age (London 1908). g. spini, Cosimo I de' Medici e la indipendenza del principato mediceo (Florence 1945). h. m. m. acton, The Last Medici (rev. ed. New York 1959). d. v. kent, The Rise of the Medici (New York 1978). n. rubinstein, The Government of Florence under the Medici (1434–1494) (Oxford 1966).
[l. w. spitz]
Medicean designating any of the four largest moons of Jupiter (Io, Europa, Ganymede, or Callisto), named by their discoverer Galileo in honour of his patron Cosimo II de' Medici.