Who was Cosimo de Medici?23 Jul 2021 | 0 Comments
Cosimo de Medici is one of the most influential figures in the history of art. He was a businessman, politician, and all-round art enthusiast – who paved the way for the birth of the Renaissance in medieval Florence.
But, despite his wealth, power, and influence; Cosimo’s story is one still filled with bravery, generosity, and ultimately, a love for all things art.
Here’s everything you need to know about Cosimo de Medici, Godfather of the Renaissance.
When was Cosimo born?
Cosimo was born on the 10th of April 1389, along with a twin brother called Damiano.
His parents, Giovani and Piccarda, named the boys after Saint Cosma and Saint Darmian – supposedly twin brothers who became doctors and offered their services free of charge.
Cosimo ended up changing his ‘birthday’ to the 27th of September so that it fell on the Holy Day associated with Saints Cosma and Darmian.
He also had a younger brother, who was (ironically) known as, Lorenzo the Elder.
His father, Giovanni had been a successful banker, and after a number of years working as part of the wider family’s business in Rome, he returned to Florence and set up the Medici bank.
It was this bank that Cosimo would go on to inherit, and which he would spearhead in its growth to being the largest bank in Europe at the time.
How Did Cosimo de Medici Make His Money?
Although Cosimo took over his father’s banking business, it was by no means a given that this would make him a rich man for the rest of his life.
Other bankers in the city had a difficult time managing their cash flow, and during Cosimo’s life, a number of them even went bust. Although, that no doubt helped him in finding new customers!
In fact, Cosimo had to save the bank from going insolvent on at least one occasion himself.
Overall, though, Cosimo was a shrewd businessman. He expanded the Medici bank’s reach to every corner of Europe and into Africa – with offices as far apart as London and Cairo.
The breadth of their service also meant that the Medici bank was a shoo-in for the role of the papal bank – which meant they oversaw the finances of the Roman Catholic church, and in particular, their top dog, Pope John XXIII.
Not only did this make the Medici family incredibly powerful in a financial sense, but it also meant that they could threaten their debtors with ex-communication from the Church if they didn’t pay up on time...
Back in Medieval Europe, that would have been about as strong a bargaining tool as you could wish for!
How was Cosimo involved in Politics?
A rich businessman making a name for himself in business and pursuing a political career... where have we heard of that before?
However, unlike some figures with a similar history, Cosimo was a strong believer in upholding the democratic right of the people.
After all, Medieval Florence was an independent democratic state, with elected officials in charge of the city-state’s affairs.
He was a popular member of the Signoria (the elected body who oversaw the running of the city) and used his influence to improve the lives of many of the city’s inhabitants.
That said, as is often the case, popularity brings envy; and Cosimo was the subject of a coup by his rival Rinaldo Degli Albizi, in 1433. He was forced to flee and live in exile, spending a year making his home in Venice... poor chap!
Although, it wasn’t long before he was able to force a return to Florence, and he was welcomed back to the city by adoring crowds.
He then returned to his position in the Signoria, where he held influence for the rest of his life.
Why is Cosimo associated with art?
Cosimo was not one to hide away his money in a vault.
He made sure that he invested his wealth, not only in making his home and city a more beautiful place to live but also in supporting those artists whom he admired and respected.
One of the most notable artists whose work was directly supported by Cosimo was Donatello.
In fact, his famous sculptures of ‘David’ and ‘Judith Slaying Holophernes’ were both commissioned by Cosimo.
He also famously continued to support the architect Brunelleschi in his effort to complete the dome on top of the cathedral in the heart of Florence, now known as the Duomo.
What Sort of Person Was Cosimo?
As with any historical figure, the myths and legends can often be hard to unpick from the truth and reality of their life and existence.
Some have argued that Cosimo was a tyrant with a soft touch, who knew how to amass power and who could manipulate people in order to extract what he personally needed out of it.
Others say that he was genuinely a proud democrat, who not only allowed Florence to flourish through his financial success but through his sensible leadership founded in his understanding of the people he represented in government.
His own words give some sense of the nature of his feelings about life. Not only in his quote above about his love of art but also on the occasions when he spoke about morality.
He once wrote that ‘there is a plant which one ought to leave dry, although most people water it. It is the weed called envy.’
And he also pointed out that ‘we read that we ought to forgive our enemies, but we do not read that we ought to forgive our friends.’
Now, who can argue with those sentiments?
What is the influence of Cosimo de Medici?
Well, one thing that’s for certain is that the beautiful city of Florence might not be quite so beautiful if it weren’t for the patronage of Mr Medici.
The Duomo which dominates the skyline might never have been realised, and the famous statues and buildings which are dotted around the city’s streets may never have existed.
The likes of Donatello and Fra Filippo Lippi were just some of the artists who were able to pursue their artistic visions thanks to Cosimo, and they went on to inspire generations of artists all over the world.
At the end of the day, we agree with Mary Anne Osborne who said, ‘I think it might be nice if there was a Cosimo de Medici around today, offering commissions to the poor but talented artists.’
That’s why we built our platform to help you become a modern-day Cosimo.
On our site, you can find art by talented and emerging artists and pay them directly and securely for their work – with 0% commission fees.