The Italian princes of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance are distinguished by their policy of patronage. Among them, Laurent de Médicis, known as "the Magnificent", which imposed itself in Florence in the second half of the 15th century, for its political skill and its "propaganda" based, among other things, on the arts. Along with others, such as the Duke of Urbino Federico da Montefeltro, he represents the type of the Italian prince interested in the arts, and who allowed - along with the artists themselves - the artistic explosion that led to the Renaissance.
Laurent de Medici, Prince of Florence
Laurent de Medici (not to be confused with the one to whom Machiavelli will offer his Prince) was born in Florence on January 1, 1449. He is the son of Pierre de Medici, known as “the Goutteux”, to whom he succeeded in 1469. But he is also the grandson of Como the Elder who already distinguished himself in his relationship with the arts. It was also Como who installed the Medici seigneury, which in fact rules Florence, although it is supposed to be a Republic.
The young Laurent received a humanist education and took an early interest in the arts and philosophy. He was reportedly introduced to architecture by Leon Batista Alberti himself. Very early on, he was in contact with the circles of Florentine power, but also with the sons of other princes, such as the Sforzas of Milan, and his father did not hesitate to send him on a diplomatic mission, including to Rome.
Laurent succeeded Pierre le Goutteux in December 1469. At this time, the Medici had many enemies in Florence, and the latter hoped to take advantage of the transition of power to overthrow the Medici family. However, they do not expect the violence of Laurent who, very quickly, imposes himself against them, not hesitating to have any opponents beheaded. Likewise, he hired the condottiere Federico da Montefeltro to put down the rebellions in the Florence region. The Florentine prince even went so far as to openly oppose Pope Sixtus IV.
The fight against the Pope
It was nevertheless the conspiracy of the Pazzi (1478) that enabled him to assert his power. Led by a rival family of the Medici, it almost causes the fall of the latter, and Laurent loses his brother Julien. The Medici finds himself face to face with Pope Sixtus IV (who encouraged the Pazzi), Siena and the King of Naples, but he obtains the support of Ludovico le More. In contrast, the King of France Louis XI prefers to stay away. Laurent the Magnificent narrowly escapes death during a religious service, aided by the humanist poet Ange Politien; the Florentine republic and its population then turned against the conspirators. His allies defeated, the pope decides to excommunicate the Florentine prince and to throw the interdict on his city, then he manages to defeat the armies of Florence, following the defection of the Milanese, at the battle of Poggio Imperiale. Laurent de Medici does not admit defeat and this time uses diplomacy to get out of this delicate situation: he makes peace with Naples, which pushes Sixtus IV to negotiate, and finally to lift the ban in 1480. The peace thus allows the prince to consolidate his power in the Florentine city.
The rest of the reign of Lawrence the Magnificent is a little quieter internationally (despite the Ferrara war), and even in Florence, and the prince appears as someone of wise, far from the violent image of his beginnings. . However, his family must face other dangers, the economic difficulties which afflict the Medici bank. This does not prevent the prince from turning to the arts and presenting himself as an important patron, little looking at the expense.
Laurent the Magnificent and the arts
The Florentine statesman was initiated from his childhood into the arts and literature. It is therefore logical that once in power, he becomes a patron prince and supports the greatest artists of his time. With him, Florence asserts itself as the capital of the arts. He thus becomes the friend and protector of the humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino, but also of Angel Politian, supporting the neo-Platonic movement. Like his predecessors, he commissioned works of art, for example from Verrocchio (master of Leonardo da Vinci and Perugino) or Filippino Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Botticelli (close to his brother Julien, of whom he painted a famous portrait) and the young Michelangelo. Laurent the Magnificent is himself a poet in his spare time, and he wrote several works especially during the 1470s, influenced by the neo-Platonism of Ficino, or even by Dante.
This period also saw Florence's face change, at the instigation of the prince. Together with the architect Giuliano da Sangallo, heir to Brunelleschi's tradition, the Church of Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato, the sacristy of the Church of Santo Spiritu, and the Villa of Poggio a Caiano are built. As for Benedetto da Maiano, he built the Strozzi Palace. The Florence of Laurent the Magnificent takes us straight into the Renaissance.
At the end of his life, Laurent de Medici favors the arrival in Florence of the monk Savonarola, which will have important consequences for the rest of the political life of the Florentine city. Indeed, ill in 1491, Laurent died in April 1492. His son Pierre succeeded him, but he was banished two years later; it is then Savonarola himself who takes power, to the chagrin of a Machiavelli ...
- I. Cloulas, Laurent le Magnifique, Fayard, 1982.
- Laurent le Magnifique, biography of Pierre Racine. Ellipses, 2015.