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The Medici Popes


Books and a DVD on the Medici


Giovanni de'Medici (Pope Leo X), son of Lorenzo

1475 - 1513 - 1521 (46)

Giulio de'Medici (Pope Clement VII), illegitimate son of Giuliano

1478 - 1523 - 1534 (56)

Medici 1 - The Glorious 1400s           The Medici Queens of France

Medici 2 - The Grand Dukes

The Chapel of the Magi

The Medici Family in the Sassetti Chapel

Sandro Botticelli's Painting of the Medici Magi Adoring the Virgin

Queuing and money counting in a 1300s bank - in pictures ...

Link to "Medicis take over Siena"

Painters: Bronzino, dell'Altissimo, Sustermans





Lorenzo il Magnifico, 1449 - 1469 - 1492 (43)


Lorenzo il Magnifico, grandson of Cosimo, son of Piero, civic leader, serious renaissance man and spender but definitely not a banker (neither did he have any sense of smell).


Lorenzo was father and stepfather of the two Medici Popes - Giovanni (Leo X) and Giulio (Clement VII)


He presided for 23 years over a Florence at the peak of her Renaissance energy, and established a glittering court of artists, philosophers and writers centred on the Palazzo Medici.  He added Botticelli, Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio, da Vinci (for a time), Poliziano (who he credited with saving his life during the attack by the Pazzi), and Machiavelli (for a time) and others to the Medici supported stable of talent.


The portrait image of Lorenzo (first from left) with Francesco Sassetti and his son (right) painted by Ghirlandaio c 1485 is in the magnificent (and hardly visited) Sassetti Chapel of SS Trinita in Florence.  It is about the only contemporary portrait of Il Magnifico stil around.


Climbing up the stairs towards their dad (below) are Lorenzo's children Guiliano (front - later helper of Leo X with the title Duc de Nemours), Piero (known later as Piero the Fatuous) and lastly the blond Giovanni (known later as Pope Leo X).  They are led by Agnolo Poliziano, their tutor.


Lorenzo died in 1492 - a year, sometimes styled the last year of the Middle Ages, which also saw Columbus land in (or rather near) America and the last Moorish Kingdom (Granada) in Spain closed down by Los Reyes Cathólicos (Fernando II, King of Aragon, and Isabella, Queen of Castile).










Many books, web sites etc state without qualification that there were four Medici Popes, but this is only true in a very limited sense.  Only Leo X and Clement VII, son and nephew / son by adoption of Lorenzo the Magnificent, count as Florentine Medici Popes.


Giovanni Angelo Medici (1499 - 1559 - 1565 (66)) - Pius IV - came from Milan and was not connected to the Medicis of Florence at all.  He presided over the concluding stages of the 18 year Council of Trent


A member of the Florence Medicis, Alessandro Ottaviano de'Medici, was elected as Leo XI in April 1605.  He was a maternal nephew of Leo X.  Sadly he did not make it past catching something nasty whilst supervising his move to the Lateran Palace, and dying before the month was out.


Link to Popes of the Renaissance







Pope Leo X

Giovanni de'Medici, 1475 - 1513 - 1521 (46)


Giovanni de'Medici, second son of Lorenzo and younger brother of the fatuous Piero, became the first of the Medici Popes* (Leo X - Leone Decimo) at the age of 38 on 11 March 1513.  Prior to this his life had been a complete roller coaster.


Brought up in Medici luxury alongside Michelangelo (who was included in the Medici household by Lorenzo), older brother Piero and cousin Giulio (who was adopted by Lorenzo after his father (who was Lorenzo's brother) was killed in the Pazzi Conspiracy in 1478), he had access to the incomes of several wealthy monasteries, including Badia a Passignano, and was made a Cardinal at the age of 13. 


All this came to an abrupt end in 1494 when, in the wake of Lorenzo's death, the incompetent surrender of his brother Piero the Fatuous to the French, and the ensuing Savanorola stirred turbulence, he had to sneak out of Florence dressed as a Franciscan Friar, and then live in hiding with his cousin  for the next decade, latterly being protected by the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian (who ironically was to be a major cause of the collapse of the Bruges branch of the Medici Bank) and then by the dreadful Cesare Borgia and his father Pope Alessandro VI (1431 - 1492 - 1503 (72)) in Rome.




Julius II by Raphael

National Gallery, London



Leo X (above and below)



Finally restored to respectability and wealth by Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere, 1443 - 1503 - 1513 (70) - not one of the Medici family but here's his portrait because it's famous and by Raphael), Giovanni used his casting vote to get himself the top job when Julius died in 1513. 


The message went out "we made it, let's party" and the new Pope immediately set about enjoying the lifestyle spoils of victory to the full.  So much so that before long the Vatican was running very short of cash - an impressive achievement!  His answer was the signing and sale of thousands of papal indulgences * - a passport to future life in heaven and source of huge cash flows.  It was anger at this practice that gave the protestant movement its momentum, and life in Europe was never to be the same again. 


The famous painting (right) of Leo X by Raphael (1483-1520 (37)), is now in the Uffizi (and there is a copy in the Capodimonte Palace Museum if you are in Naples).  The Cardinal on the left is probably cousin Guilio de'Medici (Clement VII below), though interestingly the cardinals  were added at a later date by who knows who?!  The marble statue above right, showing our man in a less flattering light is in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome.


* To be fair, the indulgence business had been launched earlier by Julius as a way of paying for a new Saint Peter's Church.  Leo's activities did however cause considerable extra strain on the system and accelerated the conflict with Protestantism.  Both Popes were significant employers of the leading artists of the day.






The eastern half of the nave of the huge gothic Dominican church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which is just behind the Pantheon in Rome.  The church houses the Sangallo sculptured and architected marble tombs of Leo X and Clement VII (below), as well as the tombs of Fra Angelico and Saint Catherine of Siena (both of whom died here) and a Michelangelo sculpture of Jesus and the cross.  Galileo's trial by the Inquisition took place in the adjacent Dominican Convent.







and two examples of Cristofano dell'Altissimo's copying skills


Link to Popes of the Renaissance







Pope Clement VII

Giulio de'Medici, 1478 - 1523 - 1534 (56)


Illegitimate son of Lorenzo's (Pazzi murdered) brother Giuliano, adopted son of Lorenzo, and companion in exile to Lorenzo's son Giovanni (Leo X), who was three years his senior, Giulio de'Medici became Pope Clement VII (Clemente Settimo).  He was good looking, intellectually sophisticated,  a talented musician and a political disaster.  In reality he also faced the legacy of the corrupt practices of his cousin Leo X, and the impossible task of operating in the emergent nation state Europe dominated by Charles V, Francis I, and Henry VIII (whom he excommunicated), and threatened by Suleiman the Magnificent, plus Martin Luther dealing the protestants into the game as well - see Insight Page.  He lost England, and was humiliated by having to flee in disguise from Rome when it was barbarically sacked by Charles V's rabble army after Clement mistakenly got too close to  flashy Francis I of France (as "seen" by Vasari below).



Interestingly the portrait above was made using oil paint on slate - in the hope that this base was more likely to immortalize the work than canvas or wood!  It was painted by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485 - 1547 (62)) in about 1531 using the compositional lines established by Raphael earlier for Julius and Leo, and is in the Getty Museum collection. The earlier painting below is by the same artist and was painted in 1526.






On to the Cadet (OR Popolani) line of Cosimo I - Grand Duke of Tuscany

Back to the Early (Renaissance) Medicis in the Glorious 1400s

Across to the Medici Queens of France


Books and a DVD on the Medici


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