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Medici Family

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Medici Family

What if Michelangelo wasn’t able to become an artist? He dabbled in his free time but followed in his father’s footsteps and became a government administrator. Well, we’d be missing out on a lot of beautiful art. Luckily, Michelangelo had the support of the Medici Family, the wealthiest and most powerful family in all of Florence.

The Medici Family were patrons of many notable artists and scholars during the Renaissance but that was certainly not all they did. They controlled Florence for the better part of three centuries, produced four popes, and married into some of the most powerful families in Europe. Let’s take a look at the rise and fall of the House of Medici.

The Medici Family Definition

The Medici Family, also known as the House of Medici, was a wealthy family that came to hold great power in Florence during the Renaissance. They played an important role in governing the city for centuries and had a large hand in making Florence the beautiful city that it is today.

The Renaissance

a time period in Europe following the Middle Ages characterized by a renewed interest in the classical world, especially in arts, architecture, and philosophy

The Medici Family Tree

The Medici family was large and expanded over many centuries. This Family Tree focuses on the key players that helped establish their power.

Medici Family Medici Family Tree StudySmarterMedici Family Tree, Source: StudySmarter.

The Medici Family History

The Medici Family originated in the small village of Cafaggilo in Tuscany. They relocated to Florence in the 13th century where they lived as merchants. They did well for themselves and became involved in civic affairs through the Florentine Merchant Guild. With time, members of the family began to take positions in the Signora.

The Signora

the governing body of the Florentine Republic, consisting of aristocrats, intellectuals, and burghers (privileged members of society, such as wealthy merchants)

Although the Medici family had already been doing very well for themselves, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici solidified their position as one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in Florence with the Medici Bank in 1397.

The Medici Bank had branches as far away as London and, for a time, the papacy even used them as their primary financial institution. The Medici Bank also gave the family the wealth necessary to pursue other ventures.

Social Status in Italian City-States

In the rest of Europe, the possession of land determined social status. However, in the Italian city-states, material wealth held more power. This meant that wealthy merchants and bankers, like the Medici Family, could reach the top of the social hierarchy. These wealthy members of society were also able to get involved in politics and serve in the Signora. Noble blood was not necessary.

Key Members of the Medici Family

Before we continue, here are some of the most significant members of the Medici Family and the ones that we’ll be discussing:

NameSignificance

Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici (1360-1429)

Founded the Medici Bank and solidified the family’s wealth and prominence

Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464)

Beat out the rival Abissi family setting up a period of rule as the de facto leader of Florence

Lorenzo de’ Medici/Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492)

Continued rule after Cosimo de’ Medici and became known as a great patron of the arts

Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589)

Married King Henry II and became queen of France

Alessandro de’ Medici (1510-1537)

Became the first Duke of Florence after the end of the Florentine Republic

Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1621)

Became the first Grand Duke of Tuscany

Gian Gastone de’ Medici (1671-1737)

The last Grand Duke of Tuscany

Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743)

Signed the Patto di Famiglia and ended the reign of the House of Medici

It’s also important to know that four members of the Medici Family became popes:

Family NamePapal TitleDates of Papal Rule
Giovanni de' Medici

Pope Leo X

1513-1521

Giulio de' Medici

Pope Clement VII

1523-1534

Giovanni Angelo de' Medici

Pope Pius IV

1559-1565

Alessandro Ottaviano de' Medici

Pope Leo XI

1605

The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici

The Rise of the House of Medici

As we discussed earlier, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici and his founding of the Medici Bank secured the wealth and prosperity of the Medici Family. It was his son Cosimo de’ Medici who finally succeeded in beating out the Allbizzi family for power over Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici became the Gran maestro of Florence and ruled for 30 years.

Gran maestro

an unofficial leader of an Italian city-state

Lorenzo de’ Medici, Cosimo de’ Medici’s grandson, was the next Gran maestro to rule Florence.

Also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, he was a patron to many famous names you’d recognize such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. He helped transform Florence into a showcase of beautiful art and architecture and the Medici family continued to be important patrons throughout the Renaissance, bringing the family even more fame and prestige.

Patron

a wealthy individual who financially supported a cause or individual

Medici Family Michelangelo Painting StudySmarterThe Last Judgement by Michelangelo, commons.wikimedia.org

For the next few decades, the Medicis held power off and on as different factions battled each other. In 1532, Guilio de’ Medici, acting as Pope Clement VII granted Alessandro de’ Medici the hereditary title of Duke of Florence, establishing the rule of the Medicis once again.

Mixing Bloodlines

As the Medici family gained more prestige, members of the family began to marry into other prominent and powerful families. Perhaps the most significant example of this is Catherine de’ Medici. She became queen of France in after marrying King Henry II and several of her sons would also go on to become kings of France.

These types of marriages were important in securing Medici influence across Europe.

The Fall of the House of Medici

Although the House of Medici would remain in power until 1737, the Grand Duchy was already suffering at the beginning of the 1700s. The treasury was completely depleted and the population had reduced by almost 50%. When Grand Duke Gian Gastone de’ Medici died in 1737, it signaled the end of Medici family rule.

His sister, Ana Maria Luisa de' Medici was the last of the royal House of Medici. Although offered a nominal regency, she declined but she left a lasting legacy with the Patto di Famiglia.

The Patto di Famiglia/Family Pact

Ana Maria Luisa de' Medici's agreement to relinquish all of the Medici Family’s art to the Tuscan state so long as it would remain in Tuscany

The Medici Family - Key takeaways

  • The Medici Family was a wealthy and powerful family that came to control Florence during the Renaissance. They began as merchants and later entered the banking industry.
  • Beginning with Lorenzo the Magnificent, they were great patrons of artists and scholars, such as Michelangelo.
  • The Medici Family rule lasted for the better part of three centuries (whether officially or unofficially) until the last Grand Duke of Tuscany died in 1737.
  • Four members of the Medici Family became popes and many members of the Medici family married into powerful families, such as Queen Catherine de' Medici of France.

Frequently Asked Questions about Medici Family

The Medici Family was a powerful and wealthy family that controlled Florence for the better part of three centuries.

The Medici Family is famous for the family's long reign over Florence and patronage of the arts during the Renaissance.

Monarchs across Europe are more likely than not to have Medici blood but the current descendants of the Medici Family are everyday people because of Ana Maria Luisa de' Medici's decision to end the royal line.

The Medici legacy still exists today in the art and architecture of Florence.

Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici was the founder of the Medici Family in that he secured the family's wealth and status. 

Final Medici Family Quiz

Question

When did the Medici family come to power in Florence?

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Answer

The Renaissance

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Question

How did Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici secure and expand the family's fortune?

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Answer

expanded their merchant enterprise

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Question

How many members of the Medici family became popes?

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Answer

2

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Question

What member of the Medici Family, in particular, is known for his patronage?

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Answer

Lorenzo the Magnificent

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Question

After the end of the Florentine Republic, what title did Alessandro de' Medici receive?

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Answer

Duke of Florence

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Question

What title did Gian Gastone de' Medici hold before his death?

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Answer

Grand Duke of Tuscany

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Question

How was the Medici family able to rise to power without noble blood?

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Answer

In Italian city-states, social status was determined by wealth rather than noble title or land.

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Question

Which member of the Medici family became queen of France?

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Answer

Catherine de' Medici

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Question

Why was the Grand Duchy already beginning to decline in the 1700s?

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Answer

the declining population of Florence and Tuscany 

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Question

Cosimo de' Medici never held an official title during his 30-year rule over Florence.


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Answer

True

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