The Founder of the Medici fortune was Giovanni, son of Averardo (also colled Bicci).
He belonged to the Cafaggiolo branch of the family and he occupied the highest position in the popular party. There he worked prudently and silently, in accordance with his mild, affable character. The Medici policy was always aimed at encouraging democratic aspirations, but the basic intention of the family was to turn those aspirations to their own advantage and to exploit them into their own interest. Giovanni was a skillful banker, intelligent businessman, thoughtful and reserved. He didn't distinguish himself in dress or lifestyle. He lived simply in the serene peace of his family. Giovanni didn't like to be involved with public appointments, but he accepted to be "Priore" (prior) in Florence for three times.
His wealth brought him near the nobility, whom, after all, he had politically opposed. For he belonged to another aristocracy that counted in Florence - that of commerce and banking. Beneath a veil of apparent disinterest he concealed a tenacious, intelligent will to accumulated wealth, so that his patrimony might become an instrument of political power in his hands and in those of his successors. In 1386 Giovanni di Bicci married Piccarda Bueri and they had two sons: Cosimo and Lorenzo. Cosimo, the elder of Giovanni's two sons, consolidated the Cafaggiolo branch of the Medici family, whereas Lorenzo founded the Popolani line. When the Cafaggiolo's fortune turned against them, and members of the family were persecuted and exiled, the Popolani rose to prominence on a platform of democratic reform, establishing a popular reputation as free citizens in a free city. Later, when the senior line of the family died out, they were entrusted with the government of Florence, which they administered in a ruthlessly undemocratic manner. Cosimo possessed his father's simplicity, patience and modesty. Nervertheless he was determineted not to be just a rich banker with some political influence: his objectives included the conquest of political power. In just a few years Cosimo dei Medici absorbed the majority of the thirty-nine Florentine banks, which had begun to disappear in 1425, while Giovanni was still alive. He placed this immense economic power at the service of his political ambitions, and naturally his conduct immediately made the other merchant bankers - the Strozzi, the Pazzi, the Acciaioli and above all the Albizzi - his enemies.
In 1434 Cosimo, who had came to a more and more prominent position in the political life of Florence, was exiled by his opposants, being accused of having attacked florentine freedom. He was called back one year later, his position was consolidated and he governed for thirty years without ever receiving an official title. Cosimo's court was like that of his immediate successors a gathering of artists and scholars, whose works were among the most prized possessions of the family and the city - figures of stature of Donatello, Brunelleschi, Domenico Veneziano; or of Poliziano, Vespasiano da Bisticci, Platina, and Pico della Mirandola. Cosimo was also an eminent book-lover. Indeed, for his library, which had become virtually public, he invested considerable amounts of money and patience collecting incunaboli, illuminated codices, manuscripts, and parchments of immense value. With a farsighted vision of greatness for his city, in 1439 Cosimo arranged for Florence to host the ecumenical council that had been working vainly for years to reconcile the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The pope, the patriarch of Constantinople, and the emperor of Constantinople, John VIII Paleologus, were guests of Florence and of the Medici. Cosimo's successor was Piero, later called Piero the Gouty, a shy reserved man given to study, meditation and the cultivation of beauty in its most intelligent forms.
Chapter 2 - LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT
Family Portrait: The Medici of Florence (back to index...)