- Lorenzo de' Medici and the Art of Magnificence.
This short but extremely valuable monograph by Francis William Kent offers scholars a glimpse of the extensive biography of Lorenzo de' Medici which he has been preparing in recent years. Even though the book tackles a specific theme — Lorenzo the Magnificent's relationship with the visual arts — it also characterizes this key Renaissance figure in the broad political, cultural, and psychological terms available only to a scholar so deeply engaged with every aspect of Lorenzo's life.
Lorenzo the Magnificent's involvement with the arts is analyzed in its different manifestations: as a private patron, as a collector of rare objects, as a member of public works committees, and as a counselor of Italian rulers, subject communities, and his fellow Florentine citizens. In this vast number of differing roles, Kent finds a common thread: the art of magnificence, a very familiar concept to scholars of the Renaissance, some of whom have delved into its theoretical principles. Kent abstains from abstract definitions of magnificence, preferring to let the concept surface naturally from his study of a man who incarnated magnificence perhaps more than any other.
The influence that Lorenzo exerted on the arts of his time has always been controversial. Contrasting the myth that formed around him just days after his death were some less flattering judgments. Among these is the well-known statement by Guicciardini, according to whom Lorenzo, as opposed to his grandfather Cosimo, "si può dire murassi nulla." On the basis of this comment, some illustrious scholars in the 1960s sought to demote the figure of Lorenzo from great artistic patron to mere collector of gems and other small objects, unaware of the newest trends.
Kent takes a clear position with respect to this debate by negating every attempt to devalue the importance of Lorenzo's contribution to the fields of architecture and the figurative arts. Distancing himself from recent excesses of the other camp, which tend to attribute to the man any progress made during his life, the author describes a vast series of projects, many of an architectonic nature, that were promoted by Lorenzo and incorporated the most avant garde ideas of the time. The fact that many of these projects were not realized was largely due to the early death of Lorenzo at age forty-three, which makes it impossible to compare him not only with Cosimo, but also with other Italian princes who had much more time to realize their ideas.
Kent rightly considers the relationship between Lorenzo and the visual arts in a holistic way by taking into account not only the finished results of his patronage, but also his ideas and ambitions, even though many of these were interrupted, truncated, or remained on paper. In this perspective the patronage of Lorenzo the Magnificent resists all attempts to diminish its importance. Certainly such a thesis depends upon Kent's broad interpretation of Lorenzo's patronage to include all his [End Page 496] actions which affected the arts. This allows him to lump together various roles assumed by Lorenzo in the patronage of monuments (either as a private patron or as a member of a civic commission, either using his own personal funds or public monies) which all, nevertheless, stem from the same political will and aesthetic taste. Perhaps a different approach, more mindful of sources of funding, legal aspects, etc., would have rendered a comparison between Lorenzo and Cosimo the Elder more plausible and profitable.
In this reconstruction of Lorenzo's magnificence, political and aesthetic objectives not only supersede all others, but are also tightly intertwined. It is without question that the cultural program promoted by Lorenzo had political ends, both in the sense of reinforcing his leadership and in its support of Medici dynastic aspirations. Less obvious is Lorenzo's use of political power for aesthetic purposes. However, Kent succeeds in demonstrating how Lorenzo's strong inclination towards...