Showing posts with label Ludovico de' Medici. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ludovico de' Medici. 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.

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