Previously on Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance. And now Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance.
Time: 1449 - 1492
The Magnificent Medici, Godfathers of the Renaissance
In February, 1480, therefore, Lorenzo returned in triumph to Florence, to be received with rapture by his fellow-citizens. Had he delayed a few months longer, his visit and his ‘ad-miseri-cordiam’ appeals would not have been needed. In August of that year Keduk Achmed, one of the Turkish Sultan's (Mahomet II) ablest generals, besieged and took the city of Otranto. In face of the common danger to all Italy, Sixtus was compelled to accept the treaty made by Ferrante with Lorenzo, and a general peace ensued. The decade accordingly closed with an absolution for all offences granted by the Pope to Florence, conditional on the Tuscan republic contributing its share to the expenses of the military preparations to resist the invasion of the Turk.
Notwithstanding the war, the progress of the Renaissance during the first decade of Lorenzo's rule was very marked. To the rapid diffusion of printing this was largely due. Lorenzo had not imbibed the prejudices against the new art entertained by Cosmo and Federigo of Montefeltro. He looked at the practical, not the sentimental, side of the question as regards the new invention. Having seen that the press could throw off, in a few days, scores of copies of any work, of which it took an amanuensis months to produce one; also that the scholars of all Italy could be furnished almost immediately, and at a low price, with the texts of any manuscript they desired, while they had to wait months for a limited number of copies whose cost was wellnigh prohibitive, he supported the new invention from the outset. Having resolved to further his father's efforts to establish printing in Florence, he stimulated the local goldsmith, Bernardo Cennini, to turn his attention to type-casting in metal, and even agreed to pay him an annual grant from the year 1471 until he had fairly settled himself in business. Nor did he confine his favors to him. John of Mainz and Nicholas of Breslau, who arrived in Florence, the former in 1472 and the latter in 1477, also participated in his open-hearted liberality. Printing struck its roots deep into the Tuscan community and flourished excellently. Though the Florentine craft never attained the reputation of the Venetian Aldi and Asolani, the Giunti of Rome, the Soncini of Fano, the Stephani of Paris, and Froben of Basel, it had the name, for a time at least, of being one of the most accurate of all presses.
To Lorenzo it owed this celebrity. At an early date he perceived that the new art would be of little value if there were not careful press readers. He was therefore among the first to induce scholars of distinction to engage in this task. For example, he enlisted the aid of Cristoforo Landino, who in his ‘Disputationes Camaldunenses’ had really inaugurated the science of textual criticism by urging that a careful comparison of the various codices should constitute the preliminary step in any reproduction of the classics. Landino's work on Vergil and Horace merits the warmest praise. Lorenzo also impressed Poliziano into the work, whose labors in marking the various readings, in adding ‘scholia’ and "notes" illustrative of the text of Catullus, Propertius, Ovid, etc., were of the utmost value. To Lorenzo and to his younger brother Giuliano, another great humanist, Giorgio Merula of Milan, dedicated his ‘Plautus’, published in Venice in 1472, showing at how early an age the Magnifico had taken his place among the recognized patrons of the Italian Renaissance.
We ought not, moreover, to omit mention of another achievement of Lorenzo, though performed in a sphere of effort lying outside of the strict limits of our Renaissance survey. Seeing it was the "Revival of Letters," however, which induced the revival of the cultivation of the vernacular Italian literature, surely it is not out of place to refer to it here. Early in life Lorenzo became imbued with the conviction that his native tongue was unsurpassed as a medium for "the expression of noble thoughts in noble numbers." Not only did he encourage others to study Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, but by following out his own precepts he became one of the great Italian poets. His ‘Selve d'Amore,’ his ‘Corinto’, his ‘Ambra’, his ‘La Nencia da Barberino’, his ‘Laude’, his ‘Sonetti’, his ‘Cansoni’, etc., are all poems that live in the Italian literature of to-day. Not as a man ashamed of the vernacular, and forced to use it because he can command no better, does Lorenzo write. "He is sure of the justice of his cause, and determined by precept and example and by the prestige of his princely rank to bring the literature he loves into repute again."
But of these poems we cannot here take further note. By the scholars of the Renaissance such work was looked askance at. If they did produce any of these "trifles," as they were called, they almost blushed to own them, and were ashamed to communicate them to each other. That he dared to be natural says much for Lorenzo, and it was largely due to his encouragement that Cristoforo Landino undertook his great work on "Dante," to which we owe so much to-day.
Continued on Sunday, March 8th.
More information on Lorenzo and on Florence.