Lorenzo the Magnificent aka Lorenzo de’Medici was the son of Piero de’Medici and as such one of the Medici dynasty, unofficial rulers of Renaissance Florence. Born in 1449, he lived only forty-three years but it was long enough to foster the career of one of the most famous Renaissance masters, aggravate a sitting Pope resulting in an assassination attempt, and become the prototype for what we now refer to as the Renaissance Man.
Interested in everything and having a talent for most everything he tried, Lorenzo was both much admired and heavily despised. He was a Renaissance Man before the term was ever coined. Interested in many things including music, art, religion, philosophy, and literature, he was a hedonist as well as an intellectual. He hosted lavish parties at the Medici Palace to discuss philosophy and classical works of literature and entertained many well known scholars and intellectuals of the day.
One of his many accomplishments, although it may not have looked like it at the time, was to bring into his household young Michelangelo Buonarroti. Michelangelo was treated as a member of the family, eating at the same table with the Medici family and having his own room in their house. It was this exposure and connection to the family that gave Michelangelo an opportunity for unrestricted access to one of the greatest collections of art and literature from antiquity, heavily influenced his works, and ensured him a lifetime of commissions.
However, all was not rosy in the world of Lorenzo the Magnificent. During a church service on Easter morning in April of 1478 Lorenzo and his brother, Giuliano, were the victims of an assassination attempt by the Pazzi family a rival in the banking industry struggling for control of the banking system and local politics in Florence. The Pazzi family was supported by the pope in power at the time, Pope Sixtus. The attempt was in part a result of the Pope’s desire to buy the city of Imola that was defeated by the Medici banks refusal to lend him the money. Imola was a key location between Florence and the Adriatic Sea, and Lorenzo was rumored to want it for himself. Infuriated at the refusal of the Medici to lend him funding for the purchase, Sixtus turned to the Pazzi family for a loan and to secure help stopping the Medici purchase by any methods necessary short of murder. Although instructed not to kill anyone, the Pazzi family saw this as a sublime opportunity to rid themselves of their rivals, take control of the banks and politics of Florence, and ingratiate themselves with the Papacy. All did not go as planned for the Pazzis however and Lorenzo managed to escape with his life. His brother Giuliano was not as lucky – dying in the church that day, a victim of multiple stab wounds.
Pope Sixtus castigated Florence in his fury over Lorenzo’s escape, stopping all religious ceremonies in the city-state as well as seizing all the Medici assets in Rome. Lorenzo left Florence secretly and went down to neighboring Naples. He managed while there to negotiate a peace treaty with the Neapolitan king and returned to Florence a hero. He eventually overthrew Sixtus by uniting the two city-states together against him. The next Pope’s, Innocent VIII, loyalty was ensured to the Medici cause when Lorenzo married Innocent’s illegitimate son to one of his own daughters. Lorenzo was granted an additional favor, garnered no doubt with a large amount of customary bribes, a promise from Innocent VIII that Lorenzo’s son Giovanni would become pope. And so it was.