Medici (Italian family)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Medici (Italian family)

Medici (mĕ´dĬchē, Ital. mā´dēchē), Italian family that directed the destinies of Florence from the 15th cent. until 1737. Of obscure origin, they rose to immense wealth as merchants and bankers, became affiliated through marriage with the major houses of Europe, and, besides acquiring (1569) the title grand duke of Tuscany, produced three popes (Leo X, Clement VII, and Leo XI), two queens of France (Catherine de' Medici and Marie de' Medici), and several cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. They also ruled for a brief period (1516–21) the duchy of Urbino.

Influence

The rise of the Medici in Florence coincided with the triumph of the capitalist class over the guild merchants and artisans. Until 1532 the democratic constitution of Florence was outwardly upheld, but the Medici exerted actual control over the government without holding any permanent official position. They were driven from power and expelled from Florence in 1433–34, from 1494 to 1512, and from 1527 to 1530. However, the attempts (such as the Pazzi conspiracy, 1478) of the Florentine republicans to restore the former liberties failed ultimately because of the Medici's wealth and powerful connections.

When their influence began, in the early 15th cent., much of the glorious period of the Renaissance in Florence lay already in the past; however, the magnificence and liberality of many of the members of the house, who were passionate patrons of the arts, literature, and learning, led to Florence's becoming the richest repository of European culture since the Athens of Pericles. Florence as it is today is largely the accomplishment of the Medici. This cultural flowering was accompanied by tremendous economic prosperity and expansion and also by territorial aggrandizement (see Tuscany) that reached its climax in the 16th cent. The rule of the Medici, though denounced by their enemies as tyrannical, was at first generally tolerant and wise, but became stultifying and bigoted in the 17th and 18th cent.

Family Members

The genealogy of the family is complicated by numerous illegitimate offspring and by the tendency of some of the members to dispose of each other by assassination. The first important member was Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360–1429). His elder son, Cosimo, founded the senior line, which included Piero (1416–69); Lorenzo (Lorenzo il Magnifico); Piero (1471–1503); Pope Leo X; Giuliano, duke of Nemours; Lorenzo, duke of Urbino; Catherine de' Medici, queen of France; Ippolito de' Medici; Alessandro de' Medici; and Pope Clement VII. Giovanni di Bicci's younger son, Lorenzo (d.1440), founded the younger line, which included Lorenzino; Giovanni (delle Bande Nere); and the grand dukes of Tuscany—Cosimo I, Francesco (whose daughter was Marie de' Medici), Ferdinand I, Cosimo II, Ferdinand II, Cosimo III, and Gian Gastone, last of the line.

See separate articles on the most important members of the family.

Bibliography

See L. Collison-Morley, The Early Medici (1936); H. M. M. Acton, The Last Medici (rev. ed. 1958, repr. 1980); M. Brion, The Medici (tr. 1969); C. Hibbert, The House of Medici: Its Rise & Fall (1980); T. Parks, Medici Money (2005). See also bibliographies under Florence and Renaissance.

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