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Cosimo de' Medici

Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici
Portrait by Bronzino
Lord of Florence
Reign 5 September 1434 – 1 August 1464
Predecessor Rinaldo degli Albizzi
Successor Piero the Gouty
Spouse(s) Contessina de' Bardi
Full name
Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici
Noble family Medici
Father Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici
Mother Piccarda Bueri
Born (1389-09-27)27 September 1389
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died 1 August 1464(1464-08-01) (aged 74)
Careggi, Republic of Florence

Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici (27 September 1389 – 1 August 1464) was the first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance; also known as "Cosimo 'the Elder'" ("il Vecchio") and "Cosimo Pater Patriae" (Latin: 'father of the nation'). His power derived from his great wealth as a banker, and he was a great patron of learning, the arts and architecture.[1]


  • Family life and business 1
  • Patronage 2
    • Political 2.1
    • Arts 2.2
    • Philosophy 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5
  • External links 6

Family life and business

Born in Florence, Cosimo inherited both his wealth and his expertise in banking from his father, Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici. In 1415, he accompanied the Antipope John XXIII at the Council of Constance, and in the same year he was named "Priore of the Republic." Later he acted frequently as ambassador, showing a prudence for which he became renowned.

Cosimo married Contessina de' Bardi (the daughter of Giovanni, count of Vernio, and Emilia Pannocchieschi). They had two sons: Piero the Gouty and Giovanni de' Medici. Cosimo also had an illegitimate son, Carlo de' Medici (1430-1492) by a Circassian slave. Carlo became a prelate.

The floor tomb of Cosimo de' Medici in San Lorenzo, Florence.

On his death in 1464 at Careggi, Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero "the Gouty", father of Lorenzo the Magnificent or Il Magnifico. After his death the Signoria awarded him the title Pater Patriae, "Father of his Country", an honor once awarded to Cicero, and had it carved upon his tomb in the Church of San Lorenzo.


Cosimo de' Medici used his vast fortune of an estimated 150 000 gold florins (almost 30 million USD or 22 million Euro today) to control the Florentine political system and sponsor a series of artistic accomplishments.[2]


His power over Florence stemmed from his wealth, which he used to control votes. As Florence was proud of its 'democracy', he pretended to have little political ambition, and did not often hold public office. Aeneas Sylvius, Bishop of Siena and later Pope Pius II, said of him:

Political questions are settled in [Cosimo's] house. The man he chooses holds office...He it is who decides peace and war...He is king in all but name."[3]

In 1433 Cosimo's power over Florence, which he exerted without occupying public office, began to look like a menace to the anti-Medici party, led by figures such as Palla Strozzi and Rinaldo degli Albizzi: in September of that year he was imprisoned, accused for the failure of the conquest of Lucca, but he managed to turn the jail term into one of exile. He went to Padua and then to Venice, taking his bank along with him. Prompted by his influence and his money, others followed him: within a year, the flight of capital from Florence was so great that the ban of exile had to be lifted. Cosimo returned a year later in 1434, to greatly influence the government of Florence (especially through the Pitti and Soderini families) and to lead by example for the rest of his long life.

Portrait by Jacopo Pontormo; the laurel branch (il Broncone) was a symbol used also by his heirs[4]

Cosimo's time in exile instilled in him the need to squash the factionalism that resulted in his exile in the first place. In order to do this, Cosimo, with the help of favourable priors in the Signoria, instigated a series of constitutional changes to secure his power through influence.

In terms of foreign policy, Cosimo worked to create peace in Northern Italy through the creation of a balance of power between Florence, Naples, Venice and Milan during the wars in Lombardy, and discouraging outside powers (notably the French and the Holy Roman Empire) from interfering. In 1439 he was also instrumental in convincing pope Eugene IV to move the Ecumenical council of Ferrara to Florence. The arrival of notable Byzantine figures from the Empire in the East, including Emperor John VIII Palaiologos himself, started the boom of culture and arts in the city.


Cosimo Pater patriae, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Cosimo was also noted for his patronage of culture and the arts during the Renaissance, liberally spending the family fortune (which his astute business sense considerably increased) to enrich Florence. According to Salviati's Zibaldone, Cosimo stated: "All those things have given me the greatest satisfaction and contentment because they are not only for the honor of God but are likewise for my own remembrance. For fifty years, I have done nothing else but earn money and spend money; and it became clear that spending money gives me greater pleasure than earning it."[5] Additionally, his patronage of the arts both recognized and proclaimed the humanistic responsibility of the civic duty that came with wealth.[6]

Cosimo de' Medici also founded the first public library in Florence at San Marco. "The user-base of the library was elite, extremely well educated, and dedicated to the political welfare of Florence."[7] He established this library especially for humanist scholars so they could gather, study, and pursue further scholarship was monumental in spurring the humanist movement in Florence. His libraries were noted for their renaissance style of openness and architecture along with the important artwork found in them.

He hired the young Michelozzo Michelozzi to create what is today perhaps the prototypical Florentine palazzo, the austere and magnificent Palazzo Medici. The building still includes, as its only 15th-century interior that is largely intact, the Magi Chapel frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli, completed in 1461 with portraits of members of the Medici family parading through Tuscany in the guise of the Three Wise Men. He was a patron and confidante of Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Donatello, whose famed David and Judith Slaying Holofernes were Medici commissions. Cosimo's patronage enabled the eccentric and bankrupt architect Brunelleschi to complete the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (the "Duomo") which was perhaps his crowning achievement as sponsor.


In the realm of philosophy, Cosimo, influenced by the lectures of Gemistus Plethon, supported Marsilio Ficino and his attempts at reviving Neo-Platonism. Cosimo commissioned Ficino's Latin translation of the complete works of Plato (the first ever complete translation) and collected a vast library which he shared with intellectuals such as Niccolo Niccoli and Leonardo Bruni.[8] He provided his grandson, Lorenzo il Magnifico, with an education in the studia humanitatis. Cosimo had an inestimable influence on Renaissance intellectual life.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ R. de Roover, The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank, 1397-1494 (Cambridge, MA, 1963), p. 28.
  3. ^ Quoted by C.Hibbert in The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, 1974 in Martin Longman, Italian Renaissance (Longman, 1992).
  4. ^ After the return of the Medici in 1512, Lorenzo di Piero formed a compagnia for carnival 1513, and called it Broncone; the Pontormo portrait was commissioned by Goro Gheri, Lorenzo's secretary.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Kent, Dale V. Cosimo de' Medici and the Florentine Renaissance: The patron's oeuvre. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000, pp. 34-8.


  • for the Palazzo Medici.
  • Burckhardt, Jacob, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) 1878.
  • Connell, William. Society and Individual in Renaissance Florence, 2002.
  • De Roover, R. The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank, 1397-1494. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963.
  • Kent, Dale. Cosimo De' Medici and the Florentine Renaissance: The patron's oeuvre. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Martin Roberts, Italian Renaissance. Longman, 1992.
  • Parks, Tim. Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
  • Padgett John F., Ansell Christopher K.,"Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici. 1400-1434", The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 98, No. 6. (May, 1993), pp. 1259–1319.

External links

  • The Medici Family: Cosimo
  • PBS Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
  • Cosimo de' Medici (1899) : Biography by K. Dorothea Ewart Vernon, on the Internet Archive
  • (Italian) Biography in "Le vite" from Vespasiano da Bisticci on BIVIO: Biblioteca Virtuale On-Line
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