Cosimo de' Medici Biography

(He Established the Medici Family as Effective Rulers of Florence During Much of the Italian Renaissance)

Birthday: April 10, 1389 (Aries)

Born In: Florence, Italy

Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici was a prominent Italian banker and politician who reigned as the first de facto Lord of Florence for thirty years. He established the House of Medici as a distinguished Italian banking family and political dynasty that rose to prominence during first half of the 15th century and effectively ruled Florence during most part of the Italian Renaissance. Although his father Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, founder of the Medici Bank, exerted considerable influence in the Florentine government, it was only after Cosimo took over as gran maestro that the Medici gained power as the unofficial head of the Republic of Florence. Cosimo was one of the key persons of the Medici Bank that emerged as the largest and most respected bank in Europe during the 15th century. He acquired power from his wealth as a banker as also through inter-marriage with wealthy and powerful families. He was reputed for his patronage towards arts and culture and reportedly spent more than 600,000 gold florins on such pursuit. Most scholars suggest that the bronze statue of David, made by the Italian Early Renaissance sculptor Donatello, was commissioned by Cosimo. It is noted as the first ever freestanding sculpture of a nude male made since antiquity.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In April

Also Known As: Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici

Died At Age: 75


Spouse/Ex-: Contessina de' Bardi (m. 1415)

father: Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici

mother: Piccarda Bueri

siblings: Lorenzo the Elder

children: Carlo de' Medici, Giovanni di Cosimo de' Medici, Piero di Cosimo de' Medici

Born Country: Italy

Bankers Italian Men

Died on: August 1, 1464

place of death: Florence, Italy

Childhood & Early Life

Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici was born on September 27, 1389, in Florence, Republic of Florence, to Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici and Piccarda Bueri. He was named after Saint Cosmas while his twin brother, who died after a short time, was named after Saint Damian. His younger brother Lorenzo the Elder, six years his junior, also became a banker and was reputed as the progenitor of the Popolani line of the family.

Giovanni, a moneylender, commenced his career in the Florentine banking system with the help of his distant uncle, Vieri di Cambio, a noted banker in Florence. Giovanni and his elder brother Francesco were trained and employed in Vieri’s banking house. With time Giovanni rose through the ranks and when Vieri’s bank split into three separate banks, sometime during 1391-92, Giovanni ran Vieri's branch in Rome till 1397, following which he returned to Florence to start the Medici Bank. The latter grew rapidly under Giovanni and opened branches across the northern Italian city-states and beyond.

Giovanni lent Baldassare Cossa money to buy the office of cardinal in 1410 and after the latter was consecrated a bishop and claimed papacy as John XXIII same year, he made the Medici Bank the bank of the papacy which helped in raising wealth, repute and power of the Medici family to a great extent. According to sources, Cosimo accompanied the Antipope John XXIII at the Council of Constance in 1415. Papacy of John XXIII ended same year which affected the Medici Bank to some extent. The Medici also paid a heavy ransom to release Cossa in 1418 after he was imprisoned in Germany. Meanwhile Cosimo was named Priore of the Republic of Florence. He often represented Florence as an ambassador.

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Cosimo and Lorenzo followed footsteps of their father into banking. Giovanni gave much of the control of Medici Bank to them in 1420. Cosimo inherited an abundance of wealth as also expertise in banking from Giovanni, who, as reported following his death in 1429, was the second richest man in Florence. Such wealth and banking system placed Cosimo among the wealthiest men in Europe.

Medici Bank expanded considerably across western Europe and opened offices in Milan, Pisa, London, Avignon, Lübeck and Bruges under Cosimo. Several branches of the bank including in distant and remote places made it possible for the bishoprics to pay their fees into their nearest branches. Such facility and convenience led the bank to earn repute as the best bank for business of the papacy.

Cosimo used his wealth and practically controlled the political power in Florence. He exercised his power in controlling the votes of municipal council office holders, in particular that of the Signoria of Florence. According to Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Bishop of Siena who later became Pope Pius II, Cosimo was the de facto king who made decisions on peace and war, and on who to hold office; and all political issues were settled in his house.

His rise in Florence however started threatening the anti-Medici party that included his primary opponents Rinaldo degli Albizzi and Palla Strozzi. In September 1433, the two men thrived in securing imprisonment of Cosimo in the Palazzo Vecchio for his role in the unsuccessful attempt of Florence in conquering the Republic of Lucca. A short trial followed and although some notable Florentines like Francesco Filelfo demanded execution of Cosimo, he was eventually sentenced to 20 years' exile from Florence.

Cosimo went to Padua and thereafter to Venice. The fact that he accepted the exile with grace instead of starting a bloody conflict to retain his power led him to find many friends and sympathizers in all the places he went. An envoy was sent to Florence from Venice requesting revocation of the order of banishment against Cosimo which was however refused following which Cosimo and Lorenzo settled in Venice. Italian architect and sculptor Michelozzo Michelozzi, a favoured Medici architect whom Cosimo commissioned to design a library in Venice, as well as some others accompanied Cosimo into exile in Venice. The decree of exile was lifted after fortunes of Florence took a downturn during the war with Milan.

Cosimo returned to Florence in 1434 and went on to effectively exercise his influence on the government of Florence till his death. Following his return both the Strozzi and Albizzi families were exiled. Cosimo became the first de facto Lord of Florence and the first de facto ruler from the House of Medici who reigned from October 6, 1434 till his death.

After returning to power, Cosimo initiated several constitutional reforms to end factionalism that, to begin with, led to his own exile. He sent Francesco I Sforza, an Italian condottiero, to Milan to establish himself there following death of Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti. Francesco became the fourth Duke of Milan in 1450. Friendship between Cosimo and Francesco eventually manifested in the Peace of Lodi agreement that was signed on April 9, 1454, between Florence, Naples and Milan and thereafter the Italic League agreement that was signed on August 30, 1454, between the Papal States, Florence, Milan, Naples and Venice. This led to a balance of power within Italy marking a period of stability for the next forty years and paving way for peace, economic expansion and development of the Renaissance in Italy. Cosimo also made effort in keeping away powers like France and the Holy Roman Empire from interfering in internal matters of Italy.

Cosimo played a key role in persuading Pope Eugene IV to move the Ecumenical Council of Ferrara to Florence in 1439.

Patron of Arts & Culture

Cosimo was a great patron of arts and culture and used his personal wealth generously in enhancing civic life of Florence and sponsoring poets, orators, and philosophers among others.

He extensively employed Michelozzi who is perhaps best-remembered for designing the magnificent Palazzo Medici for Cosimo in Florence that exemplifies Italian 15th Century architecture. Others who came under his patronage included Italian painters Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, and Italian sculptor Donatello. The latter’s most famous work, the bronze David, widely considered as the first major work of Renaissance sculpture, was commissioned by Cosimo for the courtyard of Palazzo Medici. Presently housed in the Bargello museum, the bronze figure is most noted as the first ever free-standing nude statue of a male created since antiquity. Cosimo also lent his support to Italian architect, designer, and sculptor Brunelleschi in finishing the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in 1436.

Cosimo gifted Florence its first public library, the largest in Europe at that time. It was founded in 1444 at San Marco. All the libraries founded by Cosimo which included the one he constructed for his grandson, Lorenzo de' Medici, typified Renaissance style of architecture. Cosimo also had his own collection of books which were around 70 volumes. He helped in reviving Greek and Roman civilization through literature and thus endeavoured in collecting books. He himself made several trips to collect books besides sponsoring trips organized for such pursuit by Italian scholar and an early Renaissance humanist Poggio Bracciolini. Cosimo’s patronage helped Niccolò de' Niccoli build his own library of 800 manuscripts. The latter was in great debt and Cosimo paid all his debts following his death and in return took control over Niccoli’s collection of 800 manuscripts that were valued at around 6,000 florins.

Cosimo was also the lifelong patron of Marsilio Ficino, counted among the leading humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance. Cosimo made Ficino the teacher of his grandson, Lorenzo de' Medici. Discourses of Neoplatonic philosopher George Gemistos Plethon on Plato influenced Cosimo so much that he decided to create a new Platonic Academy in Florence. He established it in 1445 and selected Ficino as its head. Cosimo provided Ficino with Plato's text for translation to Latin in 1462. Draft translation of the dialogues was completed in 1468–69 and the work was published in 1484 making Ficino the first person who translated all the works of Plato into Latin.

Personal Life

Giovanni arranged Cosimo’s marriage with Contessina de' Bardi from the House of Bardi, an influential Florentine family that once ran one of the richest banks in Europe. She was the daughter of Alessandro di Sozzo Bardi, count of Vernio, and Camilla Pannocchieschi. The marriage held in 1415 remained one of the main factors in establishing the Medici family in power in Florence providing the family with the nobility, repute and military support necessary for them to establish power in Florence. The marriage alliance was however accepted by a part of the Bardi family as others still considered Medici family as their opponents.

Cosimo had two sons with Contessina, namely Piero the Gouty, born in 1416 and Giovanni de' Medici, born in 1421; and an illegitimate son, Carlo, born in 1428 or 1430, by a Circassian slave. Carlo became a senior clergyman and collector.

Cosimo died on August 1, 1464, at the Villa Medici at Careggi and was succeeded by his son Piero. Cosimo was posthumously awarded the Latin honorific Pater Patriae, meaning Father of the Fatherland, by the Signoria of Florence that had the title carved on Cosimo’s tomb in the Church of San Lorenzo.

See the events in life of Cosimo De' Medici in Chronological Order

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