The history of Humanism and the Renaissance is inextricably linked to the history of the Medici family and the city of Florence which, for three generations, Cosimo the Elder, Piero the Goutoso and Lorenzo the Magnificent, made great, spreading its fame all over the world with trade, the arts and the sciences.
The Medici family originally came from Cafaggiòlo, a town in Mugello, in the northern part of Tuscany. The architect of the great Medici fortunes was Giovanni, father of Cosimo, who became the richest banker in Italy.
Cosimo was born September 27, 1389 and his immense wealth, combined with the support of the people and some powerful families, was the trump card with which in 1434 he managed to defeat his enemies and seize power. A power that looked a lot like a lordship, even if Cosimo was careful not to be called “lord”: he realized that his fellow citizens were too attached to the old republican tradition to renounce it without repentance. Therefore Cosimo did not introduce institutional changes or assume exceptional positions, but exercised a strict de facto control over the political life of the city, placing men of his trust in the key posts and acting in a ruthless way on electoral mechanisms.
It was Cosimo who began the activity of patron, commissioning the church of San Lorenzo to the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who then began to build the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Cosimo also protected Filippo Lippi, painter and friar, who for Cosimo dei Medici painted Pala del Noviziato (1445 ca) for the Chapel in Santa Croce in Florence.
A great friend of Cosimo was also the friar Beato Angelico (1395-1455), who at that time had begun to paint the walls of the convent of San Marco for pleasure, realizing the spectacular cycle of the Crucifixion and the Transfiguration of Christ.
Cosimo founded in the convent of San Marco a public library, the first in the world, even if strictly reserved for educated people.
In 1453 Cosimo left the management of business for his sons Piero il Gottoso and Giovanni, who had his wife Contessina de ‘Bardi (“Nannina”).
His son Giovanni died in 1463, a few months before the death of his father Cosimo (1 August 1464). The latter was strongly affected by the loss.
The only joy of recent times for Cosimo was the presence of the young nephew Lorenzo, of whom he admired intelligence and spirit.