ZENITH OF FLORENTINE GLORY
During the twelfth century several of the Italian cities—especially Florence and Venice—rose to great wealth and power. Venice, through her favorable situation, became preeminent in commerce, while Florence was coming to be the most important industrial centre of Europe. In the thirteenth century Florence was the scene of continual strife between the Guelfs and Ghibellines, but she not only continued to develop in material prosperity, but also attained to intellectual activities whereby in the next century she gained a higher distinction. She took the foremost part in the Renaissance, and was the birthplace or the home of Dante, Boccaccio, and other leaders of the modern movement.
In the fifteenth century Florence reached a still loftier eminence under the Medici, a family celebrated for the statesmen which it produced and for its patronage of letters and art. Its most illustrious members were Cosmo (1389-1464) and his grandson Lorenzo, surnamed the “Magnificent.” Lorenzo was born January 1, 1449, when the second great period of the Renaissance was nearing its close. That was the “period of arrangement and translation; the epoch of the formation of the great Italian libraries; the age when, in Florence around his grandfather Cosmo, in Rome around Pope Nicholas V, and in Naples around Alfonso the Magnanimous, coteries of the leading humanists were gathered, engaged in labors which have made posterity eternally their debtors.”
Conjointly with his younger brother Giuliano, Lorenzo, on the death of his father Piero, in 1469, succeeded to the vast wealth and political power of the family. In 1478 the death of Giuliano left Lorenzo sole ruler of Florence.
To few men has either the power or the opportunity been given to influence their epoch, intellectually and politically, to a degree so marked as was the lot of Lorenzo de’ Medici. One of the most marvellously many-sided of the many-sided men who adorned the Italy of the fifteenth century, he did more to place Florence in the forefront of the world’s culture than any other citizen who claimed Val d’Arno as his birthplace. His influence was great because he was in sympathy so catholic with all the varied life of his age and circle. While during the one hour he would be found learnedly discussing the rival claims of the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophers with Ficino and Landino, the next might witness him the foremost reveller in the Florentine carnival, crowned with flowers and with the winecup in his hand, gayly carolling the ballate he had composed for the occasion; while the third might behold him surrounded by the leading painters and sculptors of Tuscany, discoursing profoundly on the aims and mission of art. Truly a unique personality, at one and the same time the glorious creation and the splendid epitome of the spirit of the Renaissance!