The Medici family (Famiglia de' Medici) was the most powerful family of Florence. Wherever you go in Tuscany, and especially in Florence, you will see the Medici family crest. Tucked in corners or on building walls, prominently displayed or nearly hidden, their influence is visible nearly 700 years after coming into power. The family’s patronage of the arts, architecture and the humanities funded the birth of the Italian Renaissance. Their wealth was vast and obtained primarily from owning two things, the banking system and a large portion of the coffers of the Catholic Church.
The Medicis formed a strong alliance with the Church. In fact, the family was responsible for collecting the tithes of the churchgoers. If you did not pay the tithe, you were excommunicated. Four Popes were produced by the Medici family. Their banking system was deeply tied to the Pope. Half of the banks’ funds came from the bank branch in Rome. The family’s control over the Catholic Church, the banking system and politics produced one of the most powerful families ever documented. However, their dominion over the population was not due to their wholesome goodness.
The Medici family were superior at gaining power moreso than other families who were equally as rich and ambitious. Their methods often involved bribery, corruption and violence. Known to be ruthless, they shamed or murdered anyone who stood in their way. They believed strongly in networking, building a following of “friends of friends” or “amici degli amici”. This is also the philosophy behind the expression, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” which is, of course, the line made famous by the movie, The Godfather.
The 14th century Medicis may have been shady in their hearts, but they had bright, artistic souls. As the family fortunes grew, the arts, architecture and the humanities were supported as never before. This family is said to be largely responsible for funding the birth of the Italian Renaissance. The Medici family have been called, "the Godfathers of the Renaissance." Without the Medicis, the works of Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and Peter Paul Rubens and many others would not have been possible. From misbegotten gains came some of mankind’s most prominent achievements. The Medici family crest is there to remind us, all these hundreds of years later.
How many Medici family crests can you spot while on one of the Tuscan Muse tours in Tuscany or workshops in Tuscany? Join us in Tuscany and let the counting begin!