The Italian Renaissance didn’t come about by accident, and it’s also no coincidence that Florence was at the center. Today, the city of Florence remains a monument to the Renaissance and all the great artists and thinkers that city produced. If you look closely, you can see the crest of the Medici Family sculpted into the sides of buildings all over Florence, it’s telltale mark a shield with circles on it. The story goes that it represents the military might and resolve of the family with a dented shield, but really it shows coins. The Medici were a family of wealthy bankers who became politicians and ruled Florence from the late 1300’s to the 1730’s, with more than a few hiccups in there. It’s a complicated piece of history that proves essential in understanding all the great things that came out of Florence.
Back then there was no unified Italy as there is today, only a series of city states. The Medici became the ruling family of Tuscany with Florence as the capitol, and set out to make their kingdom great. The cultural grasp of the middle ages was still very much intact. It was the Medici who relaxed the strict rules of the church and turned Florence into a place where humanistic and artistic ideas could flourish. They were great patrons of the arts, so it’s not surprising that Florence became a place where art and culture exploded after a thousand year hiatus. Over their reign, they changed the face of Europe, produced the greatest artist and thinkers, and became so rich and powerful that there were 4 Medici popes. Their story is a complex tale of power, greed, wars and conflicts.
I highly recommend that you watch this series on the Medici. It’s from 2004 and is by far the best film on the Medici, plus it does a fantastic job incorporating the work of significant artists, architects and thinkers. It’s long (4 parts at 1 hour each) but it should be considered essential viewing before going to Florence. This first segment follows the rise of Cosimo De’Medici and the beginning of the Renaissance, including the building of the giant red dome on the Church of Santa Maria Del Fiore by Brunelleschi, the biggest Dome since the Pantheon in ancient Rome . (We’ll get to climb it, so learning about it’s construction is key.) The film also discusses the sculptor Donatello and his shocking sculpture of “David”, which we’ll talk about in a later post.
Please take the time to watch it- Enjoy.