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The Medici and the Renaissance, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1213

Essay

With every rise of a new era, certain figures become synonymous with that particular time in history. A modern example of this would be the American Revolution. With the mention of that phrase, names like Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson instantly come to mind. Obviously these names have heavy influence over that particular time. Now think of the Renaissance which has been influenced by many people, which include names like Machiavelli, DA Vinci, Michelangelo, and many more. These people have certainly created a giant cultural impact in their time, but maybe none of them would have been as big without the assistance of the house Medici. It could be argued that certain people had more influence than another particular person, but it can’t be argued which family was the most infamous in the time of the renaissance.

The Medici family originated from Florence, and sponsored, influenced new artists for over 300 years, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. However, apart from supporting the artistic development of Florence, the family – through its influence and power – has had an impact on Italy’s development, as well as the culture of Europe. Some of the members of the family became popes (Leo X and Clement VII), others simply engaged in supporting culture and art. In the 15th Century, Cosimo and Lorenzo Medici helped academic researchers find original manuscripts of the ancient and medieval literature and philosophy. The Medici also sponsored libraries and the Platonic school of Florence[1].

According to Kim[2], the political  reforms and achievements of Cosimo Medici in the 16th Century have created an integrated approach to ruling people, society, and creating order. As the author confirms: “The Duke propagated the success of his regime in the visual art, celebrating Florence as “the center of Italian civilization”[3]. By creating national pride, the  leader managed to communicate shared values and a vision for the future of the country. Even though the Medici family obtained power due to their financial power, and the Duke used an autocratic approach to ruling, he showed a concern for the community.

A recent study also confirmed that the Medici turned money earned through trading back into the community and art. This approach can be viewed as capitalist, therefore, the family can be related to the origins of capitalism in Europe. As Whipps states, “Medicis stoked the humanist flame”[4], and claims that research, science, education was supported by the local state. While Machiavelli was entrusted with defending Florence from the Medicis, he later became influenced by their ideas and thoughts, and joined them, just to realize that the family was ruthless when it came to political enemies. Machiavelli was  thrown into prison, and later sentenced to exile. The politician wrote one of the most revolutionary books about the state, ruling people, and learning the art of humanity: “The Prince”. Ironically, the writing was dedicated to the Medici family, and the author was hoping to win their grace back, in vain.

The Prince represents a new way of doing politics in Europe, and many thoughts were inspired by the Medicis. Shephard[5] states that the thoughts about which person to entrust as leaders and allies are clearly related to the political work and practices of the Medici family. Indeed, instead of asking how to deal with the leaders who got into power by inheriting it, Machiavelli opens up the opportunity for individual preference and decision, which is a revolutionary thought. Previously, rulers (in Florence, mostly popes with the highest power) decided who would rule a country or a region, and little or no thought was given to personal preferences.

Related to military power, in “The Prince”, Machiavelli confirms that they are all biased and none are designed to serve the interest of people. One of the most revolutionary thoughts of the book is stating that aristocracy is dangerous, because people who belong to this social group pretend to have values they do not. While Machiavelli admitted the benefits the Medicis delivered for Florence, he also spoke up against their approach towards power. According to the author, The Prince must trust the “popolo”, or the common people, as their judgment is less biased.

Najemy[6] states that Machiavelli  and the Medici had a strange relationship, being both foes and friends. While Machiavelli carried on dreaming about political reforms that he believed were necessary for the common good, the Florentine society was not ready for that change yet. The lack of freedom and self-regulation is blamed to create a society where people are unable to achieve their goals. Still, he reveals some of the principles of politics in the 16th Century Italy, as well as today:  power is politics, and politics is power. Therefore, in order to achieve power, one simply needs to master the art of war, just like the Medicis did. While this thought is far from being democratic, it is clearly representing how countries, alliances, and governments are formed today. Machiavelli was a true republican, and his thoughts were inspired by what he saw in Renaissance Italy: there was always a war between regions and dukes, and rules in different parts of the country varied. Further, the author argued that the Republic in Roman times was an ideal political setting, as the nation can be stronger undivided.

The Medicis’ power and clever tactics might have served as a foundation for Machiavelli’s ideology, he developed the idea of political realism, based on his experience. The saw how leaders like the Medicis were both practical and selfish, while also realized that individuals and institutions were corrupt. The Medicis used different tactics to seize, maintain, and increase their power, but even when mentoring artists and scientists, they acted out of self-interest. They wanted the family to become greater, more influential, wealthier, and through art they were planning to have their name remembered.

The Medici family was the most influential and most powerful one on the 16th Century Florence. Their money – obtained through deceit and political maneuvers – paid for the artists who created some of the most outstanding works of the Renaissance. Their sponsorship helped Galilei create a map of the Universe. Without their contribution, Florence and the Renaissance  would not have happened. Still, the means by which they obtained wealth and power can be questioned. Even though Machiavelli  does not openly criticize the political practices of the era, and simply describes the motivations of those in power as reality, he still reflects on the acts of the Medicis and other powerful families in contemporary Italy. Without the reckless and power-hungry acts of the Medicis, the world  of art and humanities would be different today.

Bibliography

Kim, Sang Woo. “Historiography of Duke Cosimo I de’Medici’s Cultural Politics and Theories of Cultural Hegemony and Opposition.” Michigan Journal of History (2006).

Najemy, John M. “Machiavelli and the Medici: the lessons of Florentine history.” Renaissance quarterly(1982): 551-576.

Shephard, R. “Machiavelli and the Medici: was The Prince a sugar-coated poison pill?” Elmira College.  (2006)

Whipps, H. “How the Wealthy Medici Changed the World”. Live Science. (2008)

[1] “The Medici Family”. Website. (n.d.)

[2] Kim, Sang Woo. “Historiography of Duke Cosimo I de’Medici’s Cultural Politics and Theories of Cultural Hegemony and Opposition.” Michigan Journal of History (2006).

[3] Ibid, p. 3

[4] Whipps, H. “How the Wealthy Medici Changed the World”. Live Science. (2008)

[5] Shephard, R. “Machiavelli and the Medici: was The Prince a sugar-coated poison pill?” Elmira College. (2006)

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