In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Medici Family

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Collections of Papers
  • Digital Resources
  • Earlier Medici
  • Generation of Cosimo il Vecchio
  • Generation of Piero il Gottoso
  • Generation of Lorenzo il Magnifico
  • Children of Lorenzo il Magnifico
  • Other Descendants of Lorenzo il Magnifico to 1537
  • Cosimo I, Francesco I, and Ferdinando I
  • Generations of Cosimo II and Ferdinando II

Renaissance and Reformation The Medici Family
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0260


Members of the Medici family were arguably the most-conspicuous social climbers of the Renaissance period. In the fifteenth century the principal branch of the family acquired great wealth from banking and commerce and used it to exercise political influence in the Florentine republic, but in the sixteenth century the republic gave way to a principate, with the Medici as dukes of Florence and grand dukes of Tuscany, a transformation made possible by the election of Medici popes. Whether as citizens or as princes, posterity has placed so much emphasis on their cultural patronage that they have often been cast as central figures of the Renaissance as a cultural phenomenon. This article opens with General Overviews, Reference Works, Collections of Papers, and Digital Resources, all of which span various generations of the family’s history, but then follows the example of so many works in those opening sections by taking a chronological approach to the subject. The section on the Earlier Medici takes the story up to the death of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici in 1429. Thereafter, the article traces the family’s rising economic and political fortunes in the Generation of Cosimo il Vecchio, the initial reaction against their anti-republican instincts in the Generation of Piero il Gottoso, and the more determined but ultimately futile opposition in the Generation of Lorenzo il Magnifico. From that point the story is much more complicated, in part because there was a genuine difference of opinion about whether republican Florence was better off with or without the Medici, and in part because that portion of the dynasty known as the line of Cafaggiolo dwindled to a clerically-led rump. Those clerics were nevertheless the key to what happened next. The first Medici pope, Leo X, obtained titles of nobility for his kinsmen, and the second, Clement VII, ensured that his niece Caterina married into the ruling French house of Valois and that Alessandro de’ Medici, regardless of his illegitimate birth, became the first duke of Florence. Leo is featured among the Children of Lorenzo il Magnifico; Caterina/Catherine and Alessandro, among the Other Descendants of Lorenzo il Magnifico to 1537, the year that began with Alessandro’s assassination by his kinsman Lorenzino de’ Medici. If anything, when Florence rejected its republican past and embraced a dynastic present and future, it created a model that other states followed: many a feature of what came to be regarded as the ancien régime could be seen first in the Tuscany of Cosimo I, Francesco I, and Ferdinando I. Their title may have been inflated from duke of Florence to grand duke of Tuscany, but by the Generations of Cosimo II and Ferdinando II, their realm was becoming a somewhat Ruritanian shadow of its former self, while the economic and political initiative was assumed by the Atlantic powers.

General Overviews

The history of any powerful or ruling family is so intimately bound up with that of the state in which they lived or over which they ruled that it can be difficult to make a hard and fast distinction between the individuals and their contexts. Consequently, this section of the article attempts to distinguish between the contexts provided by the Medici bank, Florence both as republic and duchy, the grand duchy of Tuscany, and the Italian peninsula as a whole (identified as Contextual), and the lives of the Medici family as a group (Multigenerational studies). It is a completely artificial distinction because many of the featured works could easily be claimed for either category.

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