Explore the life and accomplishments of the powerful Italian statesman Lorenzo de’Medici, and test your understanding about the Italian Renaissance as well as life, art, and culture in the 15th century.

Background on Lorenzo de’Medici

Lorenzo de’Medici was a statesman and patron of the arts in Florence, Italy, during the 15th century. He was so important that people referred to him as ‘il Magnifico,’ the Magnificent.

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Lorenzo de’Medici (1449-1492) lived during the Italian Renaissance. This period, from roughly 1300-1600, was characterized by new wealth flowing into Europe from trade, an educated elite class that studied the Greeks and Romans as the foundations of European culture, and increased power of the Church. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Italian Renaissance was the huge increase in artistic production. Wealthy, educated intellectuals commissioned great masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and architecture during this time.

The Italian Renaissance was championed by several prominent families, foremost the Medici. The Medici family gained their wealth and power as bankers in the new era of trade. Based in Florence, Cosimo de’Medici turned wealth into political power in the early 15th century and started directing the affairs of the city.

Florence was a city-state, which is an independent government centered on an urban center. Florence was officially a republic, but became essentially ruled by the Medici family. Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo, grew up with the finest education, political connections, and wealth. In 1469, Lorenzo’s father died and he inherited the Medici business.

Lorenzo and the Renaissance

Lorenzo essentially ruled Florence through influence, threats, bribes, underlings on the city council, and his own personal army. Florence prospered economically, but people had few individual freedoms. The Medici had many enemies, and in 1478, the rival Pazzi family tried to assassinate Lorenzo in the Cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo’s brother was killed, and the Medici had the Pazzi family and supporters killed.

One of these men was the Archbishop of Pisa, and the pope excommunicated Lorenzo as punishment and sent Naples and Calabria to invade Florence. Lorenzo managed to resolve the crisis through skilled negotiation. He averted war and strengthened his own power in Florence. Lorenzo took on the role of keeping peace in northern Italy and keeping other Europeans out of Italian affairs.

What Lorenzo is most remembered for, however, is his patronage of the arts. Lorenzo de’Medici maintained a court of artists that made Florence the center of Renaissance artistic production. Artists included Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, all of whom shaped Renaissance art. In this painting by Botticelli, members of the Medici are the Three Wise Men.

The de Medici Family as the 3 Wise Men

Lorenzo commissioned some works of art, but mostly used his influence to help the artists of his court secure commissions all over Florence. By his own calculations, the Medici had spent 663,000 florins (or about 460 million U.S. dollars) on charity, art, buildings, and taxes from 1434-1471. Lorenzo died peacefully in 1492 after having defined the shape of the century. People in Florence reported omens at his passing, including lightning striking the Cathedral and ghosts appearing.

Lesson Summary

Lorenzo de’Medici, ‘il Magnifico,’ was a powerful Italian statesman and politician in the 15th century. The Medici were a very wealthy banking family, supported by new wealth that was flowing into Europe from trade routes. The era when this wealth helped create an educated, intellectual class that put their money into commissioning great works of art is called the Italian Renaissance, and lasted from roughly 1300-1600.

The Medici lived in the city-state of Florence, an independent government that was based around the urban center. Although never being elected or proclaimed rulers, they essentially ruled Florence because their wealth, influence, and army let them dictate Florentine politics.

Lorenzo was unmatched in power and wealth, but what made him truly magnificent was his devotion to the arts. The court of Lorenzo held some of the greatest artists of all time, from da Vinci to Michelangelo, and made Florence the center of artistic production in Italy. The art produced under the Medici shaped not only the century but also all of Western history. Now that’s magnificent!

Lorenzo de’Medici Overview


People ; Terms Explanations
Lorenzo de’Medici a statesman and patron of the arts in Florence, Italy, during the 15th century
Italian Renaissance 1300-1600; characterized by new wealth flowing into Europe and an educated elite class that studied the Greeks and Romans as the foundations of European culture
The Medici Italian family that gained their wealth and power as bankers in the new era of trade while based in Florence
City-state an independent government centered on an urban center

Learning Outcomes

Listen to and read through the lesson on Lorenzo de’Medici until you can:

  • Characterize the era of the Italian Renaissance
  • Recognize the importance of the de’Medici family to the renaissance
  • Describe the aid rendered to artists by Lorenzo de’Medici