Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lorenzo de Medici Leaves Magnificent Florence

Featuring Oliphant Smeaton from his book The Medici and the Italian Renaissance published in 1901.

Previously on Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance. And now Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance.

Time: 1449 - 1492
Place: Florence

The Magnificent Medici, Godfathers of the Renaissance
a PBS documentary 

He encouraged the printers to double their output; he munificently assisted such undertakings as the first edition of Homer, edited by the famous scholars Demetrius Chalcondyles and Demetrius Cretensis, as well as other editions of the classics prepared by Poliziano, Marullus, and others. In the final estimate of his influence upon his age we hope to show that his aim was as pure as the prosecution of its realization was determined. He encouraged foreigners to come to Florence to study Greek, and, when their funds failed them, in many cases he generously entertained them at his own expense. Grocyn and Linacre, as well as Reuchlin, testify to the wise generosity of the great Magnifico, and all three declare that to him, more than to any other man, the Renaissance owed not only its development, but even the character it assumed in Italy in the second last decade of the fifteenth century.

The end came when he was literally in his prime. Only forty-two years of age, he might reasonably have looked forward to many years of active work and the enjoyment of his honors! But Lorenzo, although not a vicious, was a pleasure-loving man, and he had drained the cup of enjoyment to the very lees. His constitution was undermined by worry and late vigils, by the very intensity of interest wherewith he had devoted himself to the pleasures of the moment. Accordingly, late in 1491 he began to feel the gout, from which he had suffered for some years, becoming so troublesome that he was unable for the duties devolving on him. He had lost his wife, Clarice Orsini, in July, 1487, at a time when he was absent at the sulphur baths of Filetta, striving to obtain relief from pain; therefore his last years were lonely indeed.

Life had lost its relish to the dying Magnifico. The only thing over which he showed a flash of the old interest was in March, 1492, when his son Giovanni (afterward Leo X), on being made a cardinal by Innocent VIII, was invested with the ‘insignia’ in the Abbey Church of Fiesole. Although then within a month of his end, although, moreover, so weak that he was unable to attend the investiture mass or to head his table at the banquet which followed, he caused himself to be carried in a litter into the hall, where he publicly paid reverence to his son as a prince of the Church. He then embraced him as a father and gave him his paternal blessing. That done, and after addressing a few words of welcome to his guests collectively, he was slowly borne back to his chamber to die. Nevermore was he seen in public.

His ruling passion was, however, strong in death. In place of surrounding himself with clergy, his last hours were spent with the humanists and scholars he had loved so well. To his beautiful villa of Careggi, and to that room facing the south which he called his own, he retired, and summoned Ficino, Poliziano, and Pico della Mirandola to bear him company until he dipped his feet in the River of Death. They discussed many things, but principally the consolations afforded by philosophy. Then they reverted to the subject of the classics, and to the valuable codices which Lascaris was bringing back from Greece.

But hope at last burned low, and the physicians had to confess that the case was beyond their skill. How rudimentary as regards medical science that skill was may be judged from the fact that the staple remedy prescribed by the great Milanese doctor, Lazaro da Ficino, who had been called in to consult with Lorenzo's own medical man, Pier Leoni of Spoleto, was a potion compounded of crushed pearls and jewels. As might have been expected, such a treatment accelerated rather than retarded the disease.

The last hours of Lorenzo, and particularly his historic interview with Savonarola, have often been described and are to this day the subject of debate. There are two sides to every story, and this one of the last visit of the haughty prior of San Marco's to the dying Magnifico is no exception. Poliziano relates the incident in one form, the followers of Savonarola in another; but neither report is absolutely authentic. Suffice it for us that Benedetto, writing a week after the Magnifico's death, says of the matter: "Our dear friend and master died so nobly, with all the patience, the reverence, the recognition of God which the best of holy men and a soul divine could show, with words upon his lips so kind, that he seemed a new St. Jerome."

Perhaps the most reasonable attitude to assume toward the problem is that Lorenzo died as he lived, feeling that strange, restless curiosity as to what was summed up in the idea of a "future life" which he had manifested all his days: "If I believe aught implicitly," he is reported to have said in earlier years to Alberti, "I believe in Plato's doctrine of immortality in the ‘Phaedo,’ for religion is too much a matter of temperament for us to lay down hard-and-fast rules about it." Lorenzo outwardly conformed in his dying hours to the rites of the Catholic Church. He received the ‘viaticum’ kneeling, he repeated the responses in an earnest and fervent tone, and then, when he felt that the grains in the hour-glass of life were running out, he pressed a crucifix to his lips and so passed within the veil. As a humanist he had been reared, as a humanist he had lived and labored, as a humanist he died, maintaining to the very last his interest in those studies which it had been his life's passion to pursue.

The sun of the Florentine renaissance had set forever!

This ends our series of passages on Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance by Oliphant Smeaton from his book The Medici and the Italian Renaissance published in 1901. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.

More information on Lorenzo and on Florence.


  1. Every time I come across a supposedly remedial potion involved such bowel-lacerating ingredients, I feel intense pity of the unwitting patients/victims! Lorenzo would have done much better to employ Arab-trained physicians.

  2. And to think it was a mixture of pearls. Must have been expensive.