Lorenzo the Magnificent

History Hero: Lorenzo the Magnificent

Do you consider the arts and culture an essential part of life, worth protecting for future generations?

Well, so did Michelangelo’s first patron: Lorenzo de' Medici.

Lorenzo de' Medici is better known to history by his nickname: Lorenzo the Magnificent. In his case, greatness skipped a generation: he was born on January 1, 1449, into the powerful Medici family and inherited more of the skills used by his grandfather, Cosimo, to elevate the banking family to prominence than did his father, Piero.

Cosimo, who recognized the boy's promise, saw to it that Lorenzo was groomed to lead. He was educated by bishops, diplomats, and scholars, and trained in Greek, jousting, and hunting. He cultivated his grandfather’s political savvy as well as his love for poetry and the arts at a very young age.

Lorenzo made his first diplomatic mission as a teenager. Piero, now the head of the family, sent Lorenzo to Rome to meet the Pope. It was a huge success. But the young man's life changed completely just four years later, in 1469, when he married, lost his father, and as a result, inherited more influence and power as a 20-year-old than most people will know in a lifetime.


Now, in the era of Game of Thrones, you’d think that would have gone to his head. But Lorenzo was devoted to the well-being of the Florentine Republic, even if he did run it like a puppeteer. [You can learn all about that from Michelangelo in Time Traveler Tours' app tour, Buried Alive: The Secret Michelangelo Took to His Grave.] He thought it best that all Florentines should succeed, so he created jobs, gave generously to charitable causes, and hosted fun public spectacles. He used his charm and connections to build bridges between rival Florentine factions, bringing peace and prosperity to his city. He spent his family money to support artists and the arts. He created libraries; funded the translation of classical texts into Italian; and saw to the education of promising young artists, including none other than Michelangelo himself.

Lorenzo, like Cosimo before him, enabled the Renaissance to flourish in Florence.

But he was not universally loved. 

Powerful families, jealous of Medici money and resentful of Medici power, plotted against him. One such family was the Pazzi. They sought to end Lorenzo's life (and his closet reign) in a bloody conspiracy that involved the Church and transpired in the Duomo.

It was 1478. A group headed by Francesco Pazzi aimed to seize control of Florence by attacking Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano during mass. Giuliano, who would not have expected an attack in church and so was unarmed, did not see the assassins coming. He was wounded badly by the first dagger blow of Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, a friend of the Pazzi family,  and was killed. But Lorenzo escaped relatively unscathed with just a minor shoulder wound. He had those involved in the conspiracy lynched, killed, and hung from gibbets in the Piaza della Signoria. The Church seized all of the Medici assets and excommunicated Lorenzo.

Florence was thrown into political and religious turmoil for a time. But Lorenzo’s deft diplomatic skills saw him through the crisis. He managed to keep the Republic in check until he died, on April 9, 1492, from a genetic disease that caused gangrene in his legs. His absence, however, left a vacuum in leadership eventually filled by a conservative religious fanatic, named Savanorola, which spelled the beginning of the end of the Florentine Republic.

Lorenzo de' Medici, Death Mask

Lorenzo the Magnificent was then, as he is now, remembered as a great patron of the arts, a master statesman, businessman, and peace-maker. His death mask is on view at the Museo degli Argenti in Palazzo Pitti.

Lorenzo the Magnificent supported the arts and maintained peace in Florence throughout his life. He also discovered Michelangelo and nurtured him to greatness. That's why Lorenzo is a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.

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