At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Cosimo de' Medici

Banker who founded the Medici dynasty


This portrait of Cosimo by Jacopo da Contormo  can be viewed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
This portrait of Cosimo by Jacopo da Contormo
 can be viewed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
The first of the Medici rulers of Florence, Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici, died on this day in 1464 in Careggi in Tuscany.

Cosimo had political influence and power because of the wealth he had acquired as a banker and he is also remembered as a patron of learning, the arts and architecture.

Cosimo, who is sometime referred to as Cosimo the Elder (il Vecchio) was born into a wealthy family in Florence in 1389. His father was a moneylender who then joined the bank of a relative before opening up his own bank in 1397.

The Medici Bank opened branches in Rome, Geneva, Venice and Naples and the Rome branch managed the papal finances in return for a commission.

The bank later opened branches in London, Pisa, Avignon, Bruges, Milan and Lubeck, which meant that bishoprics could pay their money into their nearest branch for the Pope to use.

In 1410, Baldassarre Cossa, who was on one side of a power struggle within the Catholic Church, borrowed money from the bank to buy himself into the office of Cardinal and in return put the Medici in charge of all the papal finances.   This gave the Medici family the power to threaten defaulting debtors with excommunication.

Cosimo and his younger brother Lorenzo took over the running of the bank from their father in 1420 and Cosimo established power over Florence using his wealth to control votes. He was described at the time as ‘king in all but name'.

The Villa Medici in Careggi near Florence, where Cosimo died in 1464
The Villa Medici in Careggi near Florence, where
Cosimo died in 1464
Eventually his enemies had him imprisoned him in the Palazzo Vecchio for the crime of ‘failing to conquer Lucca’ but he managed to have his sentence changed to exile. He went to live in Padua and then to Venice, taking his bank with him.

When the order of banishment was lifted he was able to return to Florence, where effectively he was to govern the city for the next 30 years.

Cosimo worked to create peace in northern Italy by establishing a balance of power between Florence, Venice and Milan, which allowed for the development of the Renaissance.

The architects Brunelleschi and Michelozzo carried out Cosimo’s building projects in Florence and artists such as Ghiberti, Donatello and Fra Angelico were commissioned to produce works of art for him.

Cosimo also organised a methodical search for ancient manuscripts in Europe and the East and the books and documents procured by him are now housed in the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana), which was built in a cloister of the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

Cosimo had married Contessina de' Bardi, who was from another wealthy banking family, in about 1415 and the couple had two sons, Piero and Giovanni.

On his death on 1 August 1464 Cosimo was succeeded by Piero, who later became the father of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

The Government of Florence awarded Cosimo the title Pater Patriae, Father of the Country, which is carved on his tomb in the Church of San Lorenzo.

Travel tip:

Cosimo died in 1464 at the Villa Medici at Careggi, in the hills above Florence. The villa had been purchased in 1417 by Cosimo’s father as a working farm to make his family self sufficient. Cosimo employed the architect Michelozzo to remodel it around a central courtyard overlooked by loggias. Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo, later extended the terraced garden and the shaded woods.

The interior of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence
The interior of the Basilica of
San Lorenzo in Florence
Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Lorenzo, where Cosimo is buried, is in the centre of the market district and is one of the biggest churches in Florence. It also claims to be the oldest in the city as it dates back to 393. Cosimo’s father offered to pay for a new building to replace the 11th century Romanesque structure there at the time and commissioned Brunelleschi to design it. Michelangelo later designed the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana to house the Medici family’s collection of manuscripts.

More reading:


How Cosimo II maintained the family tradition

Grand designs of Cosimo I


(Photo of Villa Medici by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of San Lorenzo Basilica by Stefan Bauer CC BY-SA 2.5)

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