The Renaissance is remembered as Europe’s Golden Age when humanistic studies, scientific inventions, engineering developments and artistic achievements happened almost simultaneously. This period produced famous men who were knowledgeable in various fields. They included civil engineers, artists, diplomats, scientists, poets, social commentators and scholars. Chief in this astrophysical group was Lorenzo the Magnificent. Lorenzo was born in Florence, Italy, on January 1, 1449. Upon his father’s death, he immediately showed his intention to follow in his father’s footsteps by using constitutional methods of ruling. The Florentines called him “Lorenzo the Magnificent”. He was not only a statesman but a ruler and patron of arts. However, different scholars have conflicting remarks about his personality and style of ruling. While some believe that he was a generous man, others believe that he was corrupt. This paper seeks to describe Lorenzo the Magnificent as a writer and an artist.
In the beginning, he ruled Florence alongside Giuliano, his younger brother from 1469-1478. The Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 took everyone by surprise. The Pazzi bank took the papacy business affairs away from the Medici. Sixtus IV, Francesco Slavati and Riario supported the Pazzi and formed a conspiracy with them. They plotted to kill both Giuliano and Lorenzo during the Easter mass. However, they only managed to kill Giuliano, with Lorenzo taking refuge in sacristy. Sixtus IV demanded the people of Florence to hand Lorenzo over to him to avoid interdiction. However, the clergy and the Florentines rejected his proposal and stood by their leader. According to Loth (2005), Lorenzo remained the sole ruler after the assassination of his younger brother in 1478.
After the conflict, he emerged with greatly increased prestige. He was later considered a very wise man by the people of Florence for he had never taken advantage of his position to make himself a duke. He was content with creating the Council of Seventy that he believed would be more manageable than the previous one that consisted of a hundred men. His new villa had the majesty of royal status. This was an indication that the Medici were slowly attaining the status they had previously rejected. “The Magnificent” was a title given to respected individuals in Italy, but it was raised to special status by Lorenzo (Loth, 2005). He was surrounded with humanistic scholars, men of excellence, poets and artists like Michelangelo and Botticelli. Authorities in Medieval and early Renaissance had passed various laws aimed at curbing the flamboyant display of the upper class of the society. These laws were most evident in Italy because of its wealthy merchant class. Lorenzo’s wealth came from the family banking business, and like his predecessors, he used his wealth to enjoy life. He was a generous man, lavishing gifts and money on both the clergy and friends.
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However, Lorenzo was different from the titled kings who could live in ceremony and pomp, even when they had nothing in their treasury. Lorenzo could not do it as the sources of wealth that fed his munificence were declining. McCabe (1944) asserts that this was his own fault because under the Medici the thirst for power increased as the aptitude for business decreased. The economic conditions were also deteriorating. New competitors emerged from Europe while branches in other cities went bankrupt. The family’s patronage also imposed heavy burdens on its resources.
Nonetheless, McCabe (1944) agrees that Lorenzo had a major contribution to the artistic prosperity of Florentine genius in the 15th century. He collected ancient texts and assembled the so called “Platonic Academy” in his villas in Fiesole, Careggi, and Poggio a Caiano. This was more like a group of good friends: Marsilio Ficino, his teacher; Pico della Mirandola the humanist; and Angelo Poliziano the poet, the man he liked most. Angelo has saved Lorenzo’s life during the Pazzi conspiracy.
Despite the difficult situation that Lorenzo began with, he slowly maintained a balance of power with Venice, Milan and Naples. This enabled him to reinforce his position as the leader of Florence. Moreover, his economic measures also improved the finances of the family. McCabe (1944) states that Lorenzo was a man equally at ease writing licentious poetry and hymns. He commissioned both pagan-inspired nudes and altarpieces from his artists. He treated his artists with warm-hearted familiarity and respect. Lorenzo’s reign was a period of turmoil, both religious and political, so he provided elaborate entertainment for gatherings. Some scholars argue that such activities were intended to divert attention from his extravagant lifestyle. Festivals and pageants were the favorite customs of Florentine. Therefore, Lorenzo wrote poems to be performed during the festivities encouraging female promiscuity and the pursuit of pleasure. An example of a vocal performance written by Lorenzo was performed to a mass outside the cathedral during ‘The Triumph of Bacchus’ pageant.
Under his rule all things were bound to prosper. Lorenzo got rid of the factions that had been disturbing the city for a long time: all those who refused to obey the rules of Medici were exiled, imprisoned or dead. In general, tranquility reigned in the city. As opposed to the previous years when the Florentines were jealous of their rights, dancing contests, festivals and tournaments were frequently held in the city. Lorenzo played a big role in all the diversions that took place in the city. The most famous invention he came up with was the “Canti Carnascialeschi.” These compositions were to be performed in carnival masquerades of troops of devils, triumph of death or other similar events. They were usually performed by young nobles of Florence. McCabe (1944) alleges that these songs demonstrate the corruption that occurred at that time.
Visual art of Lorenzo
Kent (2004) offers a glimpse of Lorenzo’s biography by focusing on his relationship with visual arts. The involvement of Lorenzo the Magnificent with art was manifested in various ways. He was a private patron, a public works committees’ member, a collector of rare objects and a counselor of subject communities, Italian rulers and the citizens of Florentine. In all these roles, there is a common threat dealing with the art of magnificence. Kent (2004) asserts that Lorenzo made controversial influences on arts. Kent takes a definite position by counteracting all attempts to look down upon the importance of the contribution Lorenzo exerted to the fields of figurative arts and architecture. The author describes a variety of projects promoted by Lorenzo. Most of them are of architectonic nature. The main reason why most of these projects were never realized was because Lorenzo died prematurely at the age of 43. It is, therefore, impossible to compare him with other Italian princes who had all the time they needed to achieve their dreams.
Kent makes a holistic consideration of Lorenzo and the visual arts by taking into account his finished results, ideas and ambitions too. However, most of these were truncated, interrupted or remained on paper. In essence, Lorenzo’s patronage resists any attempts to diminish its significance. Definitely such a thesis relies upon the broad interpretation of his patronage to include his entire actions that affected the arts. In so doing, Kent lumps together all roles Lorenzo assumed. Nonetheless, they all stem from some aesthetic taste and political will. Perhaps a different approach addressing the legal aspects and sources of funding would have compared Lorenzo and the elder Cosimo.
In this construction of the magnificence of Lorenzo, aesthetic and political objectives not only supersede everything else, but are tightly intertwined. There is no doubt that there were political ends to the cultural programs that Lorenzo supported. He used them to reinforce his leadership as well as in support of dynastic aspirations of the Medici. It’s, however, not obvious how Lorenzo used his political power to progress his aesthetic purposes. Nonetheless, Kent manages to demonstrate how Lorenzo used authority to change the city and the countryside according to Albertian and classical principles. The important role played by the taste and aesthetic ideology of the patron takes a centre stage in Kent’s work. He discusses the principal sources of Lorenzo’s inspiration. They include family traditions, ancient and modern literature, trips to Italy and his previous relationships with engineers, architects and artisans. Lorenzo’s poetic gift was genuine. This led him to neglect the family’s commercial business which ended up collapsing. Most of his leisure time was devoted to literary studies. Even as a child, Lorenzo had an intellectual gift that could be dedicated to the Muses: singular accuracy of expression, great quickness of comprehension and a very lively fancy.
Lorenzo – great writer
Accordingly, his works were praised and lauded to the skies by most contemporary writers. His poems that were written in vulgar tongue have a spontaneous grace, freedom of movement and a great feeling for nature. As much as his verse is commonly imitated from “Ottave” by Poliziano, you cannot deny that he had rare intellectual endowments. As most men of his age, his intellect confined his qualities. He was courteous and had a passion for culture because he found it pleasing. Despite his strangely complex life, Lorenzo would recite verses like it was his main purpose of life. The author believes that Lorenzo was a corrupt man just like most of the leaders of the time. He argued that had virtue and justice been valued, the championship would have been won by Lorenzo.
Lorenzo as an artist
Lorenzo took pleasure in the works of his fellow artists. He often took part in various events, demonstrating his interest in the characteristics of artists and strangers. However, he did not efficiently patronize them like Cosimo but welcomed, helped and encouraged them through his powerful position of a prince. Even if he had nothing else for art, the garden of St. Mark that he had founded was a very commendable achievement. It contained all ancient fragments of sculpture and statues he had collected. It also housed designs of various art masters and gave a chance to students to learn from the experts and encouraged them to work harder. This is the same place Michelangiolo Buonarotti, then a student, wrote his first essay in using a chisel and was later praised by Lorenzo.
The opponents of Lorenzo argue that Lorenzo made an emphasis on the ideas of the great Athenians rather than the style. He ruled his workers by his own luxury and wealth and most of his life was far from the master’s spiritual teaching. Some argue that he was very immoral and often had affairs with other men’s wives. However, his supporters defend him by stating that most of the rulers of Italy had wives and mistresses, most of whom were other men’s wives. It is also possible that some of the biographers had a political motive to destroy Lorenzo’s legacy.
According to Loth (2005), Lorenzo preserved the city from ruins and snatched it from the dangerous difficulties that awaited it. He gives an example of Lorenzo’s preserver poetry which exhibits a simple style and purity of language. This is an indication that Lorenzo’s poetic skills were undeniable. Other people like Muratori also appreciated his work by stating that “it is gold from the mine, mixed with ruder materials indeed, but I is always gold” (272). This is an indication that as much as there might have been some negative aspects about Lorenzo’s work, he was still good at what he did. Bearing in mind that most Italian anthologies have specimen of the poetry of Lorenzo, there could not be any additional recommendation. This clearly demonstrates that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Loth (2005) adds that Lorenzo himself never doubted his skills. He was so sure that he was good that he did not bother to brag about it. Similarly, he never offered any favor simply because someone had praised his work. As a matter fact, he was not so concerned about the fame his skills had brought him. He was mostly concerned about his position as a political leader and often found time to put his writing and art skills into practice. He liked art so much that he even borrowed money from his cousins to rehearse a play he had written for the family (Loth. 2005). The play had a part for every family member because it was the last time his children would meet under the roof of his house. Any man who can come up with a play in honor of his entire family is definitely passionate about plays. In most cases, families would celebrate with food and music but Lorenzo went for a play. In fact, he was ill and didn’t have much energy as he used to but went on and performed his part. Even when he was sick, Lorenzo came up with various soothing letters dedicated to the people of Florence. He urged every citizen to calm down. The fact that he used letters to communicate to the citizens demonstrates that he was a very good writer. Not every leader uses letters for communication, most of them giving oral speeches through their assistants.
In 1485, a Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, from the Convent of San Marco came into picture and began swaying the previously loyal Florentines with ideas of an Apocalypse. He later began attacking the Florentine ruler, Lorenzo. The turnout of events was very ironic because it was Lorenzo who welcomed Savonarola from exile. Nonetheless, after he turned against him, Lorenzo still had respect for Savonarola and did not bother muzzling him. Lorenzo responded to Savonarola’s allegations with a very cleaver and artistic manner. He said, “A stranger has come into my house and does not deign to visit. It was very clever of him to use such a representation at his old age”.
As the essay has demonstrated, Lorenzo was not everyone’s favorite leader. His opponents accused him of extravagant expenditure and corruption while his proponents felt that he was a generous leader. Despite the opposing views, it has been demonstrated that he was an intellectual writer and artist. For instance, he wrote plays and letters as means of communication to the family and the citizens of Florentine. His love for writing and art was so great that he came up with a library of various masterpieces of great writers in his palace. He also came up with a garden in which he stored great pieces of art from various artists. This clearly demonstrates that his leadership did not deter him from his passion for art and writing. The economic status of the city also improved. He died at a very young age but made a great contribution to art and writing.