Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent (il Magnifico) by his contemporary Florentines, he was a glittery individual who loved to enter tournaments, compose poetry and songs, play games, hunt, and indulge the Florentine love of practical jokes. Lorenzo had a very active life and was an avid patron of the arts; he was also fascinated by technology. However, he was also a very religious man, one who deeply loved his country.
He assumed a leading role in the state upon the death of his father Piero 'the Gouty' de' Medici in 1469, when Lorenzo was just twenty. On April 26, 1478 members of a conspiracy including the Pazzi family and the Archbishop of Pisa, with the support of Pope Sixtus IV, attacked the Medici in church, killing his brother and co-ruler Giuliano. The Archbishop and several other co-conspirators were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria, and from that day forward, Lorenzo was known as the Savior of Florence.
In the aftermath of the Pazzi Conspiracy, Florence suffered from the wrath of Pope Sixtus IV, who put the city under interdict, and excommunicated Lorenzo. When that had little effect, the Pope formed a military alliance with the King of Naples to attack Florence. With little help being provided by traditional Medici allies in Milan and Bologna, only deft diplomacy by Lorenzo, who personally travelled to Naples, saved the day.
Thereafter, Lorenzo, like his grandfather Cosimo de' Medici, pursued a policy of maintaining a balance of power between the Northern Italian states, and keeping other states out of Italy. He also tried to create a more unified Italy, with little success.
One area in which he was not successful was business; during his tenure several branches of the family bank collapsed because of bad loans, and in later years he got into financial difficulties himself, and resorted to mis-appropriating trust and state funds for his own needs.
Lorenzo's support for artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Verrocchio and Michelangelo Buonarroti was instrumental in the development of Florence as the epicenter of 15th century Renaissance Europe. Although his financial straits made it impossible for him to commission many works himself, he saw to it that they received commissions from other patrons. He was an artist of some note himself, writing much very fine poetry in his native Tuscan.
He also started the collection of books which became the Medici Library, and his agents retrieved from the East large numbers of previously unknown classical works, and he employed a large workshop to copy his books and diffuse their content across Europe. He supported the development of humanism through his circle of scholarly friends who studied Greek philosophers, and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity.
Toward the end of Lorenzo's life, Florence came under the spell of Savonarola, who believed that Christians had strayed too far into Greco-Roman culture. Oddly enough, Lorenzo played a role in bringing Savonarola to Florence, even though Savonarola disliked popular art and music - two things that Lorenzo admired.
Two of his sons later became powerful popes. His second son, Giovanni, became Pope Leo X, and his adopted son Giulio (who was the illegitimate son of his slain brother Giuliano) became Pope Clement VII.
Unfortunately, his first son and his political heir, Piero 'the Unfortunate' squandered his father's patrimony and brought down his father's dynasty in Florence. Another Medici, his brother Giovanni, restored it, but it was only made wholly secure again on the accession of a distant relative from a branch line of the family, Cosimo I de' Medici.
Lorenzo de' Medici died in 1492. He and his brother Giuliano are buried together in tomb in the Medici chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo which is ornamented with the Madonna and Child of Michelangelo.
See also: Medici family