Cosimo the Elder and the Medici Bank
Cosimo the Elder and the Medici bank
Cosimo the Elder and the Medici bank played a fundamental role in shaping Renaissance culture, the modern banking system and the artistic life of his time. Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), named the Elder, took his first steps along with his brother Lorenzo. His father, a very pragmatic man, wanted him to study the classics. In fact, he was aware that he would find in them inspiration and values to manage successfully life of the Republic of Florence. The Medici bank was the largest and most respected credit institution in Europe during its prime. For a certain period, they were the wealthiest family in Europe. They owned art, land, palaces, antiquities, books, wool and gold. Thanks to all this, Cosimo the Elder and the Medici bank acquired political power initially in Florence, and later in Italy and Europe. Cosimo the Elder was also very favorable to the Jewish pawn shops’ holders. If you want to learn more in-depth about Florence and the Jews, you can read our article about the Jewish community of Florence and their relation with the Medici family.
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Cosimo de’ Medici and Rinaldo degli Albizzi
To understand better the situation that awaited the young Cosimo when he entered politics we have to go back to 1393, four years after his birth. Florence was de facto ruled by the Albizzi family, a noble and ancient local family. The Albizzi immediately sized the occasion to get rid of the Alberti and, shortly afterward, also of three members of the Medici. Rinaldo degli Albizzi was, with Palla Strozzi, the biggest rival of Cosimo the Elder. Giovanni di Bicci, Cosimo’s father at that times was only concerned with increasing the volume of his business, setting up the bank that was to provide the economic support for the ascendent of his family to power and glory.
In spite of this, in those very years, the Medici began to nurse political ambitions. They actually grew increasingly aware of their economic power. The marriage of Cosimo de’ Medici with Lotta dei Bardi di Vernio, known to everyone as “Contessina”, also marked a turning point. She belonged to the high, yet impoverished, aristocracy of Florence. The new money was helping the old one. Merchants wanted aristocratic titles and aristocrats wanted the merchants’ money. It was a clear attempt to strengthen the Medici’s position on the political scene with the aid of one of the most powerful Florentine clans. From this marriage, Piero was born in 1416 and Giovanni in 1421. Other ties were forged by Cosimo. In fact, he engaged members of other families on the social and economic rise in the agencies of the Banco Medici, e.g. the Medici bank (Martelli, Ginori, Pucci, Portinari,…).
The Signoria of Rinaldo degli Albizzi and Cosimo the Elder’s exile
In 1433 the Albizzi, unfavorable to the Medici party, got in charge of the new Signoria (government). As a consequence of this, Cosimo was imprisoned. However, thanks to the people’s support, he was released and exiled from Florence, instead of being executed to death. He went to Venice, together with his favorite architect Michelozzo, who will design for him later on Palazzo Medici. However, Cosimo the Elder and the Medici bank were much needed by the Florentines. This is why in 1434 the banishment against the Medici was cancelled, Finally, the Albizzi were expelled from Florence, together other anti-Medici families, like the Brancacci, the Strozzi, the Peruzzi, etc.
Without great changes in the city’s institutions, the so-called Medici “crypto-government” commenced. Making good use of his wealth, Cosimo the Elder was able to manipulate the electoral system of the Republican State. This way he ensured that the majority of the candidates belonged to the ranks of his
supporters. Furthermore, he did a large use of the extensive network of patronage that he had built up personally and of his undoubted political ability.
Cosimo the Elder, patron of the Renaissance
In support of his political action and with the aim of boosting his prestige, Cosimo embarked on an intense program of construction and artistic patronage. In fact, he financed the rebuilding of the Convent of San Marco, the construction of the Palazzo Medici by Michelozzo, the painting of the Magi Chapel by Benozzo Gozzoli, the patronage on the Church of San Lorenzo. Furthermore, he founded the Confraternity of Buonomini di San Martino, an important Florentine charity institution. Cosimo died at the age of 70 years old. He was buried in the main pillar of the Church of San Lorenzo, receiving the merit title of Pater Patriae (Father of the Nation).
Curious of learning about Florence and the Middle Ages and see the Oratorio dei Buonomini? Take a look at our Medieval Tour of Florence!