The Medici family were at the centre of a full flowering of all the arts during the Italian Renaissance era (1350-1550) in Italy. Cosimo de ‘Medici patronised many artists during his lifetime and is considered by many the greatest of his family to rule the city, when he established a benevolent dictatorship in order to serve the best interests of its citizens, contributing to its enhancement.
Cosimo studied the Greek classics and became more cultured than most merchants usually were; he was renowned for being an exceptional judge of character. He travelled widely, was generous to the poor, paid the taxes of impoverished friends and hid his charity, like his power, in a gracious anonymity. His foreign policy was dedicated to the organisation of peace and it was our good fortune that he cared much for literature, scholarship, philosophy and art, as well as for wealth and power, which he used wisely.
The buildings the Medici constructed for their own use, or those institutions they paid the costs for became status symbols while reflecting the importance of Italy’s history. This is tied up in their architectural vocabulary, which included the addition of an ancient Roman styled Dome on Florence’s Gothic styled Cathedral by genius architect Fillippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446) and the design of the Palazzo Medici at Florence by one of his admirers, architect Michelozzo di Barolomeo (1396 -1472).
During the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the building of private residences became an important activity in the north of Italy with the notion of privacy for the family, a new focus. By putting the cast of the series into the real architectural settings where history was made, the producers ha have illuminated the exploits and highlighted the heraldic symbols of the Medici family, emphasising the Medici contribution to the progression and development of our own society today.
Michelozzo reflected the Medici strength while keeping in mind Cosimo the Elder’s simple approach to life, producing a building that could not be considered ostentatious, one that would become a role model. Here was a private house meant to be admired indeed nothing like it had been seen before either in Florence or elsewhere in Europe.
He divided the facade into three sections; a heavily rusticated ground floor indicating the solid foundations of the family and their considerable strength; a less rusticated second floor reflecting their gradual growth and cultivation of good taste in art and architecture and finally, the refinement of that taste reflected in a smooth upper face storey. He introduced his large double arched window supported in the middle with a single column.
He made the Palazzo outward looking, reflecting the Medici feared nothing and were looking forward to a glorious future, one they had planned ahead for. He resolved the top of the facade by using a heavy overhanging cornice a direct copy from Roman buildings it marked the skyline and softened the otherwise severe facade.
The Florentine of this period was working for something beyond himself whether in truth or beauty and he set small store by his own glory as he equated honour with public service, and artists worked for the good of others. It is a mark of this period Florentine artists became individual without outgrowing a strong civic sense and this is an ideal English Gentleman aspired to emulate three centuries later.
In Series One of the Netflix television series Medici: Masters of Florence we meet Cosimo Il Vecchio, later known as Cosimo the Elder (Richard Madden). As a young man he has taken over family responsibilities following the death of his father banker Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman), who had moved to Florence in 1397 where he headquartered his business, became involved in Florentine public life and a patron of the arts, laying the groundwork for the rise of his son to power.
His sons Cosimo and Lorenzo (Stuart Martin) believe he was murdered by someone painting hemlock onto a bunch of grapes he was eating.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
In Episode 6 we witness the Medici family triumphantly returning to Florence from exile in Venice to the cheers of the people. Cosimo brings Maddalena (Sarah Felberbaum) now his mistress along with him.
Nothing is as it was before, yet he’s still angry with his wife Contessina (Annabel Scholey) for saving him from being executed in favour of exile.
By now one would think he would have realised she had done him a huge favour. Shipments have started arriving once again in Florence alleviating the shortages while they have been away.
Upon his arrival the head of the Signoria Guadagni (Brian Cox) informs Cosimo how the mercenaries paid by Rinaldo Albizzi (Lex Shrapnel) have ruined the city and that the few remaining refuse to leave.
Marco Bello speaks up for Albizzi when he finally tells Cosimo he does not think he was responsible for his father’s death. So Cosimo goes to visit Rinaldo in gaol, however there can be no peace between them, despite his former friend trying to reason with him.
Contessina observes Maddalena (Sarah Felberbaum) in her husband’s bedroom through a half opened door. She knows now she has been usurped and understanding that despite her whole family having returned, she feels more alone than when they were all away.
Cosimo tells Lorenzo (Stuart Martin) his brother he must marry and help shore up the family, which doesn’t go down too well. You sound like our father each passing day Lorenzo observes.
Marco Bello goes to seek advice from a priest. I have uncovered a great sin, which would set two brothers against each other should it be known. The priest advises it’s God who should right every wrong. This doesn’t turn out to be very helpful for the decision Marco has to make to tell Cosimo the information he found out about those responsible for his father’s death.
Cosimo is summoned to see Pope Eugenius IV (David Bamber) who has arrived in Florence as Duke Visconti has attacked Rome. He asks Cosimo Medici would he shelter him in his home and help him.
Contessina admonishes Cosimo for not allowing her into his confidence. He rages at her … you are not a martyr you are like a child with a paper sword. Knowing how ungrateful he is in anger she tells him that if I had the choice again, perhaps I would let you die.
She sends Maddelana to Cosimo’s room to lay out robes for the Pope who has gone to visit Rinaldo Albizzi in gaol to tell him in person that he will be staying with the Medici. Rinaldo tells his Holiness to watch his back.
The Pope and Cosimo discuss Albizzi and the Pope asks him to intervene and have him exiled not killed. He tells Cosimo it was his church that made his family wealth possible. And so Cosimo agrees, asking the Pope to countersign a document regarding the exile. Cosimo speaks up to the Signoria in their next meeting asking for exile for the Albizzi.
Maddelana is drawing in the garden while she watches Marco Bello exercise with his sword. He is in love with her, which could cause problems in the future. He lets her know she will have him for a friend when the Medici no longer have need of her.
Cosimo comes to make up with Contessina and when Maddelana goes to visit him in his bedroom she finds he has locked the door.
Albizzi and his family is exiled but before he goes he tells Cosimo de’ Medici a secret. As Albizzi leaves the Pope is busy blessing the Cathedral.
Once they clear the city environs he and his son are attacked, his son killed in front of him by the very mercenaries he hasn’t paid, but whom Cosimo paid on his behalf.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017