Art and Humanity in Medici Florence; Cosimo De Medici and the Florentine Renaissance by Dale Kent (Yale Pounds 40). Reviewed by Richard Edmonds

The Birmingham Post (England), December 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

Art and Humanity in Medici Florence; Cosimo De Medici and the Florentine Renaissance by Dale Kent (Yale Pounds 40). Reviewed by Richard Edmonds


Byline: Richard Edmonds

Was there ever anything more magnificent than the Medici family?

Dale Kent's lavish study of the Medici, which is unlikely to be surpassed for many years, notes that family strength and loyalty were the Medici lifeblood. In their lifetime, each member of this remarkable dynasty promoted honour and the chivalric ideals of the period. In their deaths, they made sure their memories were preserved for posterity in strikingly beautiful tombs.

'Nothing is more certain than our death and nothing more uncertain than its hour,' was a recurring theme.

The Medici used it as a preface in wills, bequests and charitable donations, a virtuous life was essential if a man wished to die well, therefore charitable patronage in life of painters, sculptors, composers and so on was an important structure to uphold.

Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) a man to whom patronage was a way of life, was in every respect a devout man. In his library, in addition to the Christian classics there were bibles, books of hours, Latin editions of the classical texts - including the naughty tales of Ovid without which no educated European male could get along. There were also maps of the world - or at least, as much of it as was known.

Cosimo was certainly no pedant. The list of vernacular books in his possession shows that he read what the majority of literate Florentines read. But when it came to classical writing Cosimo was an enthusiast, annotating lavishly his copies of the writings of the orator Cicero.

As far as the distribution of wealth goes Cosimo was a fabulously rich man - he was a banker and he spent as one would have expected of him. He would have been bound to dispense commissions from the most inspired artists of the time who made up an Italian elite. One of these men was Benozzo Gozzoli, who painted the Adoration of the Magi for Cosimo's private viewing on his walls.

These were astonishing commissions and they had a wide influence. They helped to shape what we know today of 15th-century Florence and what we accept as the popular culture of the time. To that extend Cosimo was writing Italian history.

Obviously, it all had its benefits and patronage could lead to the perpetuation of self. The picture on this page is Cosimo as he was painted in Gozzoli's Journey of the Magi which was rather more than the travels of the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. In fact, Gozzoli used the painting as an excuse to put half the Medici family into the composition.

Cosimo himself is mounted on a mule as the procession moves on from some very pretty stylised castles. He is flanked by his sons Piero, Giovanni and Carlo.

The latter was Cosimo's illegitimate son by a slave girl. Whatever the Church may have had to say about children born out of wedlock, it does seem to have fallen on deaf ears in Cosimo's case - either that, or the Church turned a blind eye to the peccadilloes of its patron. Certainly, when this particular fresco went into the Medici chapel people did little except applaud it. But it is a wonderful painting on any level, yet even more wonderful when you realise that the cast of worshippers presents an intimate picture of the Medici themselves. …

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