Lorenzo de' Medici and the Art of Magnificence
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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This study began as a paper given at the international symposium “Verrocchio at Orsanmichele and Medicean Patronage in the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in September 1993. I owe a debt of gratitude to Peggy Haines for then encouraging me to publish my findings; but not, she implied, before I had delved deeper into Lorenzo de’ Medici’s many-layered involvement in the visual arts. I recall in particular her injunction that I must undertake archival research into Lorenzo’s role in the affairs of Florence’s cathedral in order to show, in a famous phrase...
ONE: Introduction: The Myth of Lorenzo
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In the spring of 1477 the citizens of Pistoia responsible for erecting a tomb commemorating Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri in the cathedral there made a considerable error of judgment. Writing to Lorenzo de’ Medici, they asked the young leader of Florence’s republican regime to choose between two models (modelli) for the monument: one by the sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio, who had first been given the commission but was charging too much, and another by Piero del Pollaiuolo. “Now to you, as to our protector, we send the said models, because you have a quite complete understanding of such things, and of everything else.” So far so good. It was unwise of the Pistoian commit- tee, however, to say that it had found Piero’s model “more beautiful and more worthily crafted...
TWO: The Aesthetic Education of Lorenzo
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Lorenzo de’ Medici himself, along with almost all of his fellow citizens, suffered from an absorption in, not to say obsession with, Florence and its traditions, past and present. He writes of “my Florence” and “my beloved city” in his early poem the Simposio, which evokes the familiar urban sounds of his upbringing in the Palazzo Medici, next to the family church of San Lorenzo and near to the sacred and civic heart of the city.1 Lorenzo derived his very sense of scale from the experience of living beside the two grand buildings that had long dominated Florence’s urban center. When forced by floods in the summer of 1464 to clamber up the high tower of the Medici villa of Cafaggiolo, he told his father that “we would have given the cupola [of the cathedral] or...
THREE: The Temptation to Be Magnificent, 1468—1484 [includes image plate]
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Throughout his life contemporaries commented on Lorenzo de’ Medici’s impetuosity and the violence of his temper when he was crossed. In late July 1470, when his ally the duke of Milan was slow to ratify a peace treaty on which Lorenzo’s survival within the city in part depended, he was reported by the Milanese ambassador to be “in a greater fury than I ever saw a man of his social condition.”1 He was also capable of self-mastery, learning to restrain himself precisely in these early months and years of his ascendancy, when he faced considerable opposition within and without the city. His assumption of author...
FOUR: Lorenzo and the Florentine Building Boom, 1485—1492
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Tuscany may have been “the fountain of architects,” in Federigo da Montefeltro’s phrase,1 but toward the end of the 1470s, after two or three decades of major palace construction and other monumental works, not much building was being done in Florence. “There was much more construction before than now,” observed the Opera del Duomo as early as 1475.2 Florence could not contribute financially to the campaign against the Turks, Lorenzo himself argued in July 1477, “because in truth, given the times, our city . . . is not in a position to do so.”3 Unemployment was high, and essential food supplies were scarce. The Turkish threat and a period of plague coincided with increasingly tense political conditions within the city, leading up to the Pazzi...
FIVE: Lorenzo, “Fine Husbandman” and Villa Builder, 1483—1492
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Lorenzo de’ Medici was not only accomplished at letters and at architecture, according to Cristoforo Landino, who knew him well, but also “a fine husbandman [bonus agricola].”1 If the humanist scholar intended to pay Florence’s leading citizen a compliment duly steeped in classical associations—Lorenzo as austere Roman paterfamilias, never happier than when tending his vines and observing with an expert eye the unfolding of the agricultural year—he did so with some justification. In a sense Lorenzo was born and remained a countryman. Centuries before his birth the Medici had come from the beautiful and isolated upland valley of the Mugello, in the Apennines north of...
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Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 28 halftones
Publication Year: 2004
Series Title: The Johns Hopkins Symposia in Comparative History