Showing posts with label Cosimo the Elder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cosimo the Elder. Show all posts

5 April 2017

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere - condottiero

Medici soldier who fathered Cosimo I de' Medici

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere: a portrait by an unknown artist
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere: a portrait by an
unknown artist
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, the military leader regarded as the last of the great Italian condottieri, was born on this day in 1498 in Forlì, in what is now the Emilia-Romagna region.

The condottieri were professional soldiers, mercenaries who hired themselves out to lead the armies of the Italian city-states and the Papacy in the frequent wars that ensued from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance.

Giovanni spent the greater part of his military career in the service of Pope Leo X, the Medici pope. Indeed, he was a Medici himself, albeit from a then secondary branch of the family. Baptised Ludovico, he was the son of Giovanni de’ Medici, also known as Il Popolano and a great-nephew of Cosimo the Elder, the founder of the dynasty.

It was his mother, Caterina Sforza, the powerful daughter of the Duke of Milan, who renamed him Giovanni in memory of his father, her fourth husband, who died when the boy was just five months old. He became Giovanni dalle Bande Nere much later, in 1521, when he added black stripes to his military insignia in a show of mourning for Pope Leo X.

His upbringing brought out the worst aspects of his character, which was deeply influenced by his mother’s fiery nature. The family moved to Florence after his father’s death and after Caterina herself passed away in 1509, his care was placed in the hands of Iacopo Salviati and Lucrezia de’ Medici, the daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Giovanni's wife, Maria Salviati, a portrait by  Jacopo Pontormo, in the Uffizi Gallery
Giovanni's wife, Maria Salviati: a portrait by
Jacopo Pontormo, in the Uffizi Gallery
Giovanni was no easy child to look after. At the age of 12, a rebellious and bored schoolboy, he murdered another boy of the same age and for a while was banished from the city.

It was Salviati who found him a way to channel his aggression to a profitable purpose, using his influence after the Medicis returned to power in 1512 following an 18-year exile to get him work as commander of a cavalry company of mercenaries fighting for Leo X during the Battle of Urbino (1516-17).

In 1517, Giovanni married Maria, Salviati's daughter. Their son Cosimo, born on June 15, would go on to be Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, under whose rule Florence enjoyed considerable prosperity and military power.

Giovanni continued to serve Leo X and in 1521 took part in the war to oust the French from the Duchy of Milan, gaining praise for his skirmishing tactics in securing a victory for the combined forces of Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V at Vaprio d’Adda.

His loyalties could be bought, however. Following the death of Leo X, and chronically in debt, he agreed to fight for the French, only to be on the losing side at the Battle of Bicocca in 1522.

Subsequently he fought for the Sforza family and then for another Medici pope, Clement VII, who agreed to pay off all his debts.

Bronzino's portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici
Bronzino's portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici
It was while he was in the service of Clement VII, who was part of the League of Cognac, which united France, the Duchy of Milan, Venice, Florence and the pope against Charles V, that Giovanni died.

During a battle in November 1526 to hold back the advance of Imperial forces into Lombardy, he was struck in the right leg by a cannon ball. His leg was amputated, but he died, probably of gangrene, four days later.

Buried initially in Mantua, his body was eventually returned to Florence in 1685 to be entombed in the Chapel of the Princes in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. It was exhumed in 2012 to preserve the remains, which had been submerged during the Florence floods of 1966.

Soon after his death, mobile cannons became much more common on the battlefield and the armoured cavalry companies that the condottieri tended to lead became almost obsolete very quickly, hence Dalle Bande Nere tends to be called the last of the condottieri.

Bandinelli's statue of Giovanne dalle Bande Nere dominates Piazza San Lorenzo
Bandinelli's statue of Giovanne dalle
Bande Nere dominates Piazza San Lorenzo
Travel tip:

Piazza San Lorenzo in Florence is notable for the statue of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo I in honour of his father and created by the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, who placed Giovanni not on a horse but on a chair, holding what has been suggested is a broken lance. The statue was to have rested on a pedestal inside the Basilica of San Lorenzo but Cosimo I changed his mind and had the statue installed in the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Sala dell'Udienza.  However, the enormous marble pedestal on which Bandinelli wanted it to rest, decorated with a relief meant to depict the condottieri’s clemency towards his prisoners, proved too big and Cosimo changed his plans again, placing it in Piazza San Lorenzo. In another statue, under the portico of the Uffizi Gallery, Giovanni is standing and holding a sword.

Piazza Saffi is the main square in the centre of Forlì
Piazza Saffi is the main square in the centre of Forlì

Travel tip:

Forlì, a city of almost 120,000 inhabitants in the wealthy Emilia-Romagna region, has been the site of a settlement since the Romans were there in around 188BC.  Forlì today has several buildings of architectural, artistic and historical significance. At the heart of the city is Piazza Aurelio Saffi, named after the politician Aurelio Saffi, an important figure in the pro-republican faction during the Risorgimento. The Piazza Saffi also includes the 12th century Abbey of San Mercuriale.

More reading:

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)