Lorenzo de' Medici and the Arts

Art could hardly have found a more liberal patron in Lorenzo de' Medici than in his forbears, but he may have been a more enlightened one, having more of the artistic temperament, and being moreover a man who could impress others with his own ideas.

The attention to landscape and the growth of fancy to be noticed in the Florence art of the later years of the century have been attributed to him and doubtless much of the prevailing prosperity of the city was due to the ardor with which he encouraged new arts, such as engraving on copper and on stones and gems, carving, the revival of mosaic, and the inlaying of wood and metal.

Lorenzo de' Medici made vast additions to the family collection of antiques. One of his finest enterprises was the opening of his garden alongside San Marco as a kind of school for artists. Here he displayed all his treasures of ancient carvings, and statues, together with designs by the best masters, and welcomed every student of any promise, of whom, as all the world knows, Michelangelo was one.

These all sat at his table in company, on a perfect equality with his other guests. Bertoldo, Donatello's pupil, was the custodian of the school, and he and Verrocchio repaired, completed and preserved all the priceless collection.

Lorenzo de' Medici's favourite artists among the galaxy that were then painting, were Benozzo Gozzoli, Ghirlandaio and, especially, Botticelli. As compared with Cosimo, whose buildings have remained, and have made the city what she is, he was rather the inspirer of artists than their patron. He had the gift of imposing his personality on others; they felt with his feeling, saw with his eyes, and his influence on the art of his time is more real, though more intangible, than that of his illustrious grandfather.

But in the world of letters his position was wholly different: here indeed he sat with his peers. For his family, and for Lorenzo de' Medici in particular, the things of the mind were not an ornament, still less an accessory; they were a necessity of life, something vital. Setting aside his literary achievements to be considered later, as a lover and leader of learning he holds an honorable place.

Well equipped with Greek and Latin erudition, with a profound admiration for Dante and for Petrarca, and a firm belief in the future of the vernacular, he forwarded every private enterprise of intellectual value.

Lorenzo de' Medici helped in the collecting of codices, in the encouragement of lectures, in the fostering of the University, and in the liberal help accorded to scholars. He needed such companionship as broadened the mind and sharpened the wits, and he always made it a companionship of equals; the wise, the witty, the frivolous, the artistic, the learned, each in turn contributed to him and he to them.

It was in the circle of the Platonic Academy that Lorenzo de' Medici was most at home. He was steeped in Platonism; he had a strong vein of mysticism in his nature, which was too poetic to be satisfied with a material creed. He was neither sceptic nor materialist, and he had what many better man has not, the religious sense.

Before he died, Lorenzo de' Medici received the last Sacraments with intense contrition and devotion. His chosen friends Pico and Poliziano attended him and those around him said that he died nobly, with all the patience, the reverence, the recognition of God which the best of holy men could show.

It is an undoubted fact that on his death bed Lorenzo de' Medici sent for Savonarola, saying that he knew no honest friar save him. What took place between them is still a matter of dispute: the dramatic account is that the friar charged him to restore liberty to Florence, on which the Magnifico turned his face to the wall and died in despair. But according to Poliziano, who is surely a trustworthy witness, on that April day in 1492, when the sun of Lorenzo de' Medici set, Fra Girolamo exhorted and blessed him, and, simply, departed.

More on Lorenzo de' Medici's life:

Lorenzo de' Medici: Biography

Why Lorenzo de' Medici was also named Lorenzo Il Magnifico

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