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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Lorenzo de' Medici may at first ostensibly appear not to be as prominent a patron of the arts as his predecessors, particularly his grandfather Cosimo de' Medici, as he commissioned far fewer works than his grandfather. However, after further study it becomes apparent that not only did Lorenzo de' Medici commission works as a patron, but he also supported and found many young artists and helped them to become as well renowned as they are today. This clearly shows that Lorenzo had a much greater impact as a patron of the arts than any who had come before him as although the amount of works he commissioned may be limited, the support he provided the artists with in finding other commissions and helping them become more established had an immeasurable impact not only in Florence.

In order to assess the role that Lorenzo de' Medici played as a patron during the cultural revival of the Renaissance, we must first understand what a patron was and what their role was. Patronage was an imperative part of the Renaissance, primarily for the financial aid it provided artists with, however in many other ways as well. The man who asked for a painting to be made, found use for, paid for and gave guidance for was the patron. The patron was ,in essence, the client who sought out an artist for a specific project that he wished to be created. Thus, it was the patron who gave guidance and instructed the artist on what to create and importantly what materials to use. The number of guidance that a patron gave varied from case to case, however in most, a strict legal agreement was made, and the patron had to meet the demands which were prescribed. A clear example of the relationship between the patrons and artists is shown in a letter written by the artist Filippo Lippi who was painting a triptych for Giovanni de' Medici. This triptych was intended as a gift for King Alfonso V of Naples. Here is an extract from the letter:

I have done what you told me on the paintings, and applied myself scrupulously to each thing. The figure of St. Michael is now so near finishing that, since his armour is to be of silver and gold and his other garments too… Now Giovanni I am altogether your servant here and shall be so in deed. I have had fourteen florins from you, and I wrote to that my expenses would come to thirty florins, and it comes to that much because the picture is rich in ornament… If I have presumed too much in writing to you, forgive me. I shall always do what you want in every respect great and small.

One can see how the artists were almost ‘servants' to their patrons. Similarly, this shows how it was mainly the patrons' ideas that were created as it says, ‘I shall always do what you want in every respect great and small.' It also highlights one of the most important parts of the relationship between artists and patrons, the issue of payment. This is because many patrons wanted to use the most expensive materials such as aquamarine blue, and hence the artists required significant funding to get these materials.

To get a better understanding of the impact of Lorenzo de' Medici, we must first understand why people partook in patronage. Giovanni Rucellai explained that there were broadly four reasons for which people became patrons. Rucellai himself had many of Italy's most prominent artists working for him including Domenico Veneziano, Filippo Lippi, Verrocchio, Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Ucello. Rucellai explained his impressive involvement in patronage primarily by personal satisfaction of owning such beautiful pieces of art within his house as he said, ‘the best masters there have been for a long time not only in Florence but in Italy.' However, people did not solely do patronage for egotistical reasons but also to improve their religious zeal and to honour the city. Rucellai explained this when he said, ‘the greatest contentment and the greatest pleasure because they serve the glory of God, the honour of the city, and the commemoration of myself.' Therefore, this shows how although most became patrons to honour themselves and commemorate themselves, it was also to improve their religious standing and position, and to give back to their city.


Florence as a city was perfectly set for a patron to support and nurture the prevalent intellectual capacity and desire for exploration of the arts. This enabled Lorenzo to have such a significant effect as a patron of the arts, as Florence became renowned for its cultural side and attracted a myriad of artists who could easily be discovered by Lorenzo. Florence roughly had a population of 100,000 which was very large for the time comparatively, as Paris and London only had populations of 80,000 and 40,000 respectively. Of this population many were literate, and Florence was one of Latin Europe's most dynamic and creative cities. This can be explained as a survey of Florence before the black death showed that around 8,000 to 10,000 students were enrolled in the city's private schools. Although most attended elementary schools, they still learnt the necessities such as the vernacular and arithmetic which were integral parts of the Florentine society. These figures clearly show the importance of education to the Florentines which explains to some extent the high levels of literacy in the city. What was most distinct about Florentine intellect was not its diversity, as this was matched by other cities such as Venice and Naples, rather it was their close relationship between the cultural traditions. The structure of Florence allowed open debate and communication which facilitated the growth and spread of these cultural traditions. In 1429 a young lucchese lawyer was contemplating moving to Florence from Siena and he wrote to a Florentine ‘Since I have always had a great affection for that magnificent and glorious city, which I consider one of the three [greatest] in the world, I would rather be there than here, even though I would earn less.' This shows how Florence was well recognised to be a such a diverse and cultural city that some were willing to sacrifice a portion of their earnings to live there. Therefore, the intellectual capacity of Florence was imperative in allowing all patrons of Florence, not only Lorenzo, to create a city of such intellectual wealth and prosperity. This is of such importance when discussing patrons in Florence as it facilitated their growth and prosperity as Florence continually attracted various artists who were well renowned. This is because of the many places apprentices could learn which attracted artists such as Giotto from the Mugello and Masaccio from S. Giovanni Valdarno, who both came to study at a workshop in Florence. This enabled Lorenzo in particular to utilise the attraction of Florence as it brought people to his school where he could discover these new artists and begin to support them.

To completely understand why Lorenzo de' Medici became so renowned for his patronage and earned the name ‘Il Magnifico', we must explain the standard which had been set by the previous Medici and how they were able to become such great patrons. The wealth that they had accumulated through their banking was immense and allowed them to have a big role in the patronage of Florence. When Giovanni de' Medici passed on the bank to Cosimo it was already the largest bank in Europe with branches in sixteen capitals. Cosimo then managed to increase the banks power, by expanding their domain further in the manufacture of silk and woollen goods. Cosimo also added trade of products from the Far East such as spices and the marketing of allum. This allowed the Medici family to have a very active role in the patronage of Florence, and Cosimo de' Medici and Lorenzo de' Medici were the most active out of the family.

Lorenzo could be seen to be less of a patron of arts in comparison to others who had come before him, particularly his grandfather Cosimo de' Medici. Cosimo's contributions towards patronage in Florence were overwhelming. Cosimo played a vital role in patronage as he was one of the first to use his large wealth for large personal monuments which had previously been avoided and was in contrast to the normal method of financing new buildings from state of guild funds. Cosimo was particularly influential as he defended patronage of architecture which soon became a pivotal part of the growth of cities. The most important and influential of these architectural creations was the Via Larga which became the home of the Medici family to come, and also paved the way for other Florentine elites. Lorenzo showed the extent of Cosimo's patronage as he stated that the Medici had spent over 600,000 florins for public purposes since 1434 and explained that this expenditure ‘casts a brilliant light upon our condition in the city'. This shows how Cosimo's work as a patron was very effective not only for personal gain, but also for their social and political position as it presented not only their power and dominance in Florence, but also showed their philanthropy as he gave back to the Florentine community. The Via Larga was an incredible structure which Cosimo had filled with magnificent furnishings and décor to impress those who stayed there. This was an important piece of patronage in the political sense as well as Cosimo used it to host both the German Emperor Frederick III and the Byzantine Emperor John Paleologue. Galeazzo Maria Sforza, son of the Lord of Milan wrote in a letter to his father Francesco that his visit to the Via Larga was a ‘dazzling experience'. This clearly shows how effective and impressive Cosimo's architecture was as he also commissioned the creation of the Palazzo Medici designed by Michelozzo di Barolomeo. It was well known for its impressive stone masonry and helped create a commercial and political edifice known as the House of Medici. Comparatively to Lorenzo it would at first seem that Cosimo had a much more effective and active role in patronage, particularly architecturally as he commissioned the reconstruction of many churches and monasteries, but most importantly the creation of the Via Larga and Palazzo Medici which became the political homes of the Medici family. Lorenzo may be seen to be less of a patron of the arts when compared with his grandfather as he commissioned far fewer works and his direct impact on patronage was far less.

One of the most crucial things that Lorenzo de' Medici did which allowed him to focus on patronage was find peace for Florence. This facilitated his focus on patronage and the arts within Florence. The importance of peace for facilitating the focus on arts in Florence is clearly shown as Scipio Ammirato said, ‘Florence altogether gave herself up to the arts and pleasures of peace, seeking to attract thither men of letters, to accumulate books, to adorn the city, to make the countryside fruitful.' One of the most difficult relations which Lorenzo was able to mend and find peace between was his relationship with the Curia and the Pope. This feud was worsened by the hatred between the Medici and Pazzi family, and the Pazzi family conspired togtehr to plan the death of Lorenzo and his brother. Unfortunately Guiliano did not survive the attack and was stabbed in a sadistic aggressive means mutilating his body with nineteen wounds. The perpatrators of the attack; the archbishop Salviati, Jacopo di Poggio and Francesco de' Pazzi were all hung out of the Palazzo della Signoria. People collected outside of the Medici palace calling for Lorenzo who came out in neck bandages with blood all over his waistcoat. Lorenzo however, begged them to stop the violence on those merely suspected of murder. Although people may have cheered his words, they did not follow them and murdered those who they thought could be conspirators. This led to not only the execution of many members of the Pazzi family but also led to their disgracing as their name and their coat-of-arms were ordered to be surpressed in perpetuity by a public decree of the Signoria. The Pazzi property was confiscated, their palace was renamed and no man who had married a Pazzi was ever allowed to hold an office in the Republic. However, in contrast Lorenzo was heralded as a hero and Giorgio  Vasari recorded that ‘Lorenzo's friends and relations ordered that, in thanksgiving to God for his preservation, images of him should be set up throughout the city.' This shows how Lorenzo was able to end the longstanding dispute between the Medici and Pazzi family be it in a dramatic way and the strong expense of his brother. However Lorenzo's actions after the event portrayed his calm leadership that made him so respected and aided him in gaining support to create peace. It was only in finding peace that art and culture was truly able to flourish in Florence and hence, peace was a strong facilitating factor to Lorenzo becoming such a great patron of the arts.

Lorenzo de' Medici is shown to be a very important patron of the arts from a very young age as he was raised engrossed in humanist literature. Lorenzo's fondness of literature and particularly poetry can be traced back to his upbringing as his tutor Cristoforo Landini who was a professor of poetry at the university and soon after promoted to head of Greek and Latin. However, his passion for poetry can also be explained by his mother, Lucrezio Tornabuoni's passion for it, as she was a very distinguished poet herself. This shows how the importance of culture and intellect were ingrained into Lorenzo from his childhood. This is what inspired him to take the active role in patronage which he did in the future and particularly his role in aiding the education of others and inspiring him to set up his school and donate to the universities.

One of the most important acts of patronage that Lorenzo de' Medici did was the foundation of his school, which solidified him as one of the greatest patrons of the arts as not only was it an act of patronage in itself by supporting the young artists, but it also helped him discover artists which he could support. According to Georgio Vasari, Lorenzo had created this school not only to aid the training of the students' crafts, but to provide a greater education which would have otherwise not been available to them. He created the school in between the Palazzo Medici and San Marco and donated the school many paintings and sculptures which were placed around the grounds. It was the foundation of this school which allowed Lorenzo to support such famous artists such as Michelangelo, as he would visit Francesco Urbino's school in Florence to ask the teacher Domenico Ghirlandaio who should come to the school he just founded. It was after Michelangelo created a copy of the head of an old faun that Lorenzo became inspired to cultivate and nurture him as he wrote in a letter to Michelangelo's father Lodovico that he would ‘keep him as one of his own sons'. Soon after Lorenzo arranged for Michelangelo to stay in the Palazzo Medici and Michelangelo remained there for four years. This is one of the ways that Lorenzo was able to support the artists of Florence and have a greater impact on the artistic world of Florence than his predecessors even though he was far less rich than they were. Another clear example of how Lorenzo aided in the education of young artists and supported them is by donating to the universities. In 1472 he donated so substantially to the university of Tuscany that it became the principle university of the region. He also provided large amounts of financial aid for the University of Florence and helped in becoming one of the only universities said to sufficiently teach Greek. This philanthropy clearly shows not only his strong interest for language and philosophy, but also the extent to his participation in patronage.

A clear example of Lorenzo de' Medici being a great patron of the arts is his relationship with Botticelli. This is because this relationship clearly shows that although Lorenzo commissioned fewer sculptures or paintings than many of his predecessors, he still had a great impact on the patronage of Florence. Even if he did not commission the famous works of Botticelli the Primavera and The Birth of Venus, Lorenzo still played an imperative role in the career of Botticelli as he ensured that he was always sought out by other Florentine patrons and it seems that he was responsible for Botticelli's work being placed in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Further examples of artists Lorenzo continually supported are Filippino Lippi whom he also sent to Rome, Antonio Pollaiuolo whom he sent to Milan, and Giuliano da Maiano whom he suggested to the Duke of Calabria. This clearly shows that although Lorenzo may not have had such a direct influence on patronage as Cosimo de' Medici or Giovanni Rucellai by commissioning works, he had a greater impact by consistently supporting the artists and making sure they were always receiving commissions. Moreover, the school Lorenzo founded permitted him to easily seek out young artists and support them from a young age and nurture them into greater artists which would not have been possible without his support. Lorenzo de' Medici's influence was not limited to solely in Florence as he also was able to aid artists patronage across all cities in Italy. For example Lorenzo provided Verrocchio with numerous commissions in Tuscany so that he ‘never gave himself a moment' rest from painting or sculpture.' One of the clearest and most important examples of how Lorenzo supported young artists is that of Leonardo de' Vinci. It is unclear whether or not Leonardo actually stayed in the Medici household, but the support and influence that Lorenzo had is undisputable. This is because de Vinci came to work in the workshop under Verrocchio where Lorenzo first discovered him and continued to support him even when he left for Milan as he suggested de Vinci to Duke Lodovico Sforza who sought out an artist for an equestrian statue of his father. Lorenzo went to the extent of sending him a silver lyre which de Vinci had made in the shape of a horse's head.

Although Lorenzo de' Medici focused less on commissioning work for himself, on occasion he would do so to help promote artists. For example, he commissioned Verrocchio to sculped a bronze David in 1474 and a terracotta resurrection for his own house in Careggi. Lorenzo also bought a number of works from other artists, and accumulated a great collection of bronzes, coins, medals, ancient gems and pottery inscribing upon them ‘LAUR. MED'. Interestingly he would sometimes be far more willing to buy a more expensive gem, sometimes costing over a thousand florins, rather than a painting such as a Boticelli which would only cost a few hundred florins.

His expenditure on patronage was not limited to only antiquities but he also supported writers and scholars by purchasing books and manuscripts. He often sent Giovanni Lascaris to find works and on his second voyage to the East he returned with two hundred Greek works which would have been otherwise lost. His passion for literature and language is shown as he himself wrote poetry particularly in the Italian vernacular which had been broadly inspired by the work of his mother. His interest in culture highlighted by his involvement in patronage made his advice sought after. He was well known to be an intellectual connoisseur across all forms of patronage and it is was not surprising for him to be consulted in conflicts of the arts. An example of this is the dispute over the façade of Santa Spirito where Filippo Strozzi asked for his on its dimensions. The importance of Lorenzo's opinion on matters of the arts clearly shows how well renowned he was for his understanding and how great a patron he was. When a new altar panel was being created in the church of Santo Spirito, Ghirlandaio demanded that it should be done ‘according to the manner, standards and form' that would please Lorenzo. One can clearly see how highly Lorenzo was regarded in terms of his understanding of the arts and architecture also in his ability as a patron.

Lorenzo de' Medici brought a new dimension to patronage of the arts. Unlike previous generations who mainly commissioned works for themselves, Lorenzo set a school to discover and mentor new artists, and then support them through financial aid and the sourcing of commissions for them. Therefore, he not only led to the creation of great works of art, but also developed a legacy for bringing forward new artists for generations to come.

The list of artists whose careers Lorenzo assisted is testament to his greatness as a patron.

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