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The Medici family was a powerful and influential Florentine family from the 13th to 17th century. The family produced three popes (Leo X, Clement VII, and Leo XI), numerous rulers of Florence (notably Lorenzo the Magnificent, patron of some of the most famous works of renaissance art), and later members of the French and English royalty. Like other Signore families they dominated their city's government. They were able to bring Florence under their family's power allowing for an environment where art and humanism could flourish. They led the birth of the Italian Renaissance along with the other great signore families of Italy like the Visconti and Sforza families of Milan, the Este of Ferrara, the Gonzaga of Mantua, and others.The Medici Bank was one of the most prosperous and most respected in Europe. There are some estimates that the Medici family was, for a period of time, the wealthiest family in Europe. From this base, the family acquired political power initially in Florence, and later in wider Italy and Europe. A notable contribution to the profession of accounting was the improvement of the general ledger system through the development of the double-entry bookkeeping system for tracking credits and debits. This system was first used by accountants working for the Medici family in Florence.
History The Florence family came from the industrial Mugello region, north of Florence, being mentioned for the first time in a document of 1260. The origin of the name is certain although its Greek meaning is "crack doctor". Members of the family rose to some prominence in the early 14th century in the wool trade, especially with France and Spain. Despite the presence of some Medicis in the city's government institutions, they were still far less notable than outstanding families such as the Albizzi or the Strozzi. One Salvestro de' Medici was speaker of the woolmakers' guild during the Ciompi revolt, and one Antonio was sentenced to death in 1396. The involvement in another plot in 1400 caused all branches of the family to be banned from Florence's politics for twenty years, with the exception of two: from one of the latter, that of Averardo (Bicci) de' Medici, originated the Medici dynasty. Averardo's son, Giovanni di Bicci, increased the wealth of the family through his creation of the Medici Bank, and became one of the richest men in the city. Although never holding any political charge, he gained a strong popular support to the family when he supported the introduction of a proportional taxing system.His son Cosimo the Elder took over in 1434 as gran maestro, and the Medici became unofficial heads of state of the Florentine republic. The "senior" branch of the family — those descended from Cosimo the Elder — ruled until the assassination of Alessandro de' Medici, first Duke of Florence, in 1537. This century-long rule was only interrupted on two occasions (between 1494-1512 and 1527-1530), when popular revolts sent the Medici into exile. Power then passed to the "junior" branch — those descended from Lorenzo the Elder, younger son of Giovanni di Bicci, starting with his great-great-grandson Cosimo I the Great. The Medici's rise to power was chronicled in detail by Benedetto Dei.Cosimo and his father started the Medici foundations in banking, manufacturing - including a form of franchises - wealth, art, cultural patronage, and in the Papacy that ensured their success for generations. At least half, probably more, of Florence’s people were employed by them and their foundational branches in business.
15th century Piero de' Medici (1416-1469), Cosimo’s son, only stayed in power a few years (r. 1464-1469), until his grandson Lorenzo took over. Lorenzo de' Medici “the Magnificent” (1449-1492), was more capable of leading and ruling a city. However, “Magnificent” was a common title and essentially does not mean anything special in itself. He showed his children great love and affection, too. To ensure the continuance of his success, Lorenzo perceived his children’s abilities and planned their futures and careers for them. He predicted, or rather forced, Piero II to be headstrong, Giovanni a scholar, and Giuliano--not to be confused with Lorenzo’s brother who had the same first name--good. Giuliano, Lorenzo’s brother, was assassinated in church on Easter Sunday (1478). Lorenzo adopted Giuliano’s illegitimate son, Giulio de' Medici (1478-1535), the future Clement VII. The incompetent Piero II took over as the head of Florence after his father’s, Lorenzo, death. Piero was responsible for the brief expulsion of the Medici.The Medici remained masters of Italy through their two famous 16th century popes, Leo X and Clement VII, who were de facto rulers of both Rome and Florence. They were both patrons of the arts, but in the religious field they proved unable to stem the advance of Martin Luther's ideas. Another Medici became Pope: Alessandro Ottaviano de' Medici (Leo XI).The most outstanding figure of the 16th century Medici was Cosimo I, who, coming from a retire in the Mugello, rose to supremacy in the whole Tuscany, conquering the Florentine most hated rival Siena and founding the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Art and architecture The most significant accomplishments of the Medici were in the sponsorship of art and architecture, mainly early and High Renaissance art and architecture. The Medici were responsible for the majority of Florentine art during their reign. Their money was significant because during this period, artists generally only made their works when they received commissions and advance payments. Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, the first patron of the arts in the family, aided Masaccio and commissioned Brunelleschi for the reconstruction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence in 1419. Cosimo the Elder's notable artistic associates were Donatello and Fra Angelico. The most significant addition to the list over the years was Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), who produced work for a number of Medici, beginning with Lorenzo the Magnificent. Lorenzo commissioned him often, even as a child, and was extremely fond of him. Lorenzo commissioned Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) for seven years. Lorenzo also was an artist of poetry and song. Later, Pope Leo X would chiefly commission Raphael (1483-1520) — "the Prince of Painters." Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint the alter wall of the Sistine Chapel; The de Medici family oversaw the construction of the Sistine Chapel as well.Under Savonarola's fanatical leadership, many great works were "voluntarily" destroyed in the Bonfire of the Vanities (February 7, 1497). The following year, on May 23, 1498, Savonarola and his two young supporters were hanged in the public square, the same location as his bonfire.In addition to commissions for art and architecture, the Medici were prolific collectors and today their acquisitions form the core of the Uffizi museum in Florence.In architecture, the Medici are responsible for some notable features of Florence; including the Uffizi Gallery, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, the Belvedere, and the Palazzo Medici.Although none of the Medici themselves were scientists, the family is well known to have been the patrons of the famous Galileo Galilei, who tutored multiple generations of Medici children, and was an important figurehead for his patron's quest for power. Galileo's patronage was eventually abandoned by Ferdinando II, when the Inquisition accused Galileo of heresy. However, the Medici family did afford the scientist a safe haven for many years. Galileo named the four largest moons of Jupiter after four Medici children he tutored.
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