|Medici family members placed allegorically in the entourage of a king from the Three Wise Men in the Tuscan countryside in a Benozzo Gozzoli fresco, c. 1459. photo: wikipedia|
The Medici produced three Popes of the Catholic Church—Pope Leo X (1513–1521), Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), and Pope Leo XI (1605) ; two regent queens of France—Catherine de' Medici (1547–1559) and Marie de' Medici (1600–1610). In 1531, the family became hereditary Dukes of Florence. In 1569, the duchy was elevated to a grand duchy after territorial expansion. They ruled the Grand Duchy of Tuscany from its inception until 1737, with the death of Gian Gastone de' Medici.
|Raphael's Portrait of Leo X with cardinals Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII) and Luigi de' Rossi, his first cousins, (Uffizi gallery, Florence) photo: wikipedia|
|Sebastiano del Piombo (Italian) - Pope Clement VII photo: wikipedia|
|Pope Leo XI photo: wikipedia|
A notable contribution to the profession of accounting was the improvement of the general ledger system through the development of the double-entry bookkeeping system for tracking credits and debits. The Medici family were among the earliest businesses to use the system.
Legend says the dynasty descended from a giant-slaying knight.
The family’s roots supposedly are linked to one of Charlemagne’s eighth-century knights, named Averardo. As the story goes, Averardo was riding through an area north of Florence known the Mugello when he encountered a giant who’d been frightening people. Averardo fought and killed the giant, and in the process his shield was dented by the iron balls of his opponent’s mace. The Medici family coat of arms, which includes red balls on a gold shield, supposedly was inspired by Averardo and his battered shield.
|Coat of Arms of the Medici Family. based on Armoiries Médicis photo: wikipedia|
The Medici bank once was Europe’s most powerful financial institution.
In 1397, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici started the bank in Florence on which the Medici fortune was built. At the time, Florence had emerged as an important center for banking (the city’s gold coin, the florin, became a standard currency across Europe in the 14th century). Under Giovanni’s son Cosimo, the Medici bank grew into the most powerful in Europe in the 15th century, with branches in Rome, Venice, Naples, Milan, London, Geneva and other locations. The Vatican was a major client, and the bank also was involved in the textile and alum trades.
|Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, founder of the Medici bank photo: wikipedia|
Michelangelo lived with the family.
As a teenager Michelangelo was recommended for admission to a school for sculptors established by Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of the most prominent members of the dynasty (he also was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent).
|Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra photo: wikipedia|
|Lorenzo by Girolamo Macchietti (16th century) photo: wikipedia|
|The Statue of David, completed by Michelangelo in 1504, is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance. photo: wikipedia|
One of their chief enemies was a friar.
In the 15th century, fundamentalist preacher Girolamo Savonarola criticized what he viewed as the Medicis’ tyranny and corruption, as well as Renaissance Florence’s general sinfulness.
|Girolamo Savonarola photo: wikipedia|
Galileo was a family tutor.
In addition to backing artists, the Medicis helped support scientists, such as the astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei. In the early 1600s, Galileo, who was cash-strapped and had a family to provide for, took a job tutoring Cosimo de Medici, the teenage son of Ferdinando I, grand duke of Tuscany.
|Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636 photo: wikipedia|
Galileo later was hired to tutor Ferdinando’s wife, who reportedly thought he was an astrologer rather than an astronomer and had him do the duke’s horoscope. In 1610, Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius “The Starry Messenger,” a work describing recent discoveries he’d made with a telescope, including the fact that Jupiter had moons, which he named after the Medici.
Title page of Sidereus nuncius, 1610, by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). *IC6.G1333.610s, Houghton Library, Harvard University photo: wikipedia
The Medicis produced two queens.
The Florence-born Catherine de’ Medici was an influential monarch in 16th century France and the mother of three French kings. Orphaned shortly after birth, Catherine was married at age 14 to Henry, the second son of King Francis I of France. When Henry became king in 1547, Catherine reigned as queen until her husband’s death in a jousting tournament in 1559.
|Miniature of Catherine de' Medici, "a rare portrait of Catherine before she was widowed in 1559, when she adopted the veil and severely plain dress of a widow." photo: wikipedia|
|Maria de' Medici (1575-1642) regina di Francia photo: wikipedia|
Another Medici, Marie de' Medici , was queen of France from 1600 until the 1610 assassination of her husband, King Henry IV. Marie then was appointed regent for her young son, Louis XIII, who in 1617 took power and exiled her.
The dynasty collapsed with a debauched duke.
The curtains closed on almost 300 years of Medici rule in Florence with the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the seventh family member to serve as grand duke of Tuscany.
|Gian Gastone Grand Duke of Tuscany. A peri-wigged man is resplendent in gold, ermine-fringed coronation robes. The man holds the royal sceptre of Tuscany in his right hand; at the same time clenching the royal crown. The cross of the order of Saint Stephen Pope and Martyr adorns his neck. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore lies crumbling against a dark sky outside the window. photo: wikipedia|
Gian Gastone, who came to power in 1723 and led a life of debauchery, died without any heirs. Through an agreement of the leading European powers, he was succeeded by Francis, duke of Lorraine (who later became the Holy Roman Emperor and the father of Marie Antoinette, queen of France). When Gian Gastone’s only sibling, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last of the family line, passed away in 1743 without any children, she willed the Medicis’ enormous art collection and other treasures to the Tuscan state, on the condition they always remain in Florence.
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