By Jean Marie Carey

Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, was born on 1 January 1449 in Florence. Lorenzo was both ruler and scholar. A vernacular poet, he was also interested in classical antiquity and became the center of a humanist circle of artists and philosophers, which included Botticelli and Michelangelo. His taste in architecture was formed by Leon Battista Alberti, with whom he had studied antiques in Rome in 1465 and whose treatise he read repeatedly.

Lorenzo continued the Medici patronage of ecclesiastical institutions. He enriched the family church of San Lorenzo, where the tomb of Piero and Giovanni de’ Medici was completed by Verrocchio between 1469 and 1472, and had Giuliano da Sangallo build the Augustine Observant Monastery at San Gallo in 1488.

Lorenzo also indulged a taste for rural life modelled on Classical ideals, and in the collections that he built up at the Palazzo Medici in Florence. His major architectural commission was the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano (c. 1480), where Sangallo created a villa all’antica, influenced by Lorenzo’s ideals. He also commissioned an illustrious team of artists — Botticelli, Perugino, Filippino Lippi and Domenico Ghirlandaio — to decorate his villa.

Lorenzo commissioned Antonio Pollaiuolo’s antique-inspired bronze of Hercules and Antaeus, c. 1480, and established a sculpture garden at San Marco where he encouraged Michelangelo to study from the Antique. Lorenzo’s association with and treatment of artists as the equals of humanist scholars and poets was unprecedented in Republican Florence. It introduced a new type of patronage and was associated with an increasing emphasis on the production of collector’s pieces.  

Reference: Marlis von Hessert, et al. “Medici, de’.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press,

Cecco Bravo. Lorenzo the Magnificent, Bringer of Peace (Lorenzo de’ Medici riceve le muse e le virtù accompagnate da apollo), 1638-41. Museo degli argenti, Florence, Italy.

Giuliano da Sangallo. Arcade of the Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano, Italy, c. 1480. Scala Archives, New York City.

Andrea del Verrocchio. Madonna and Child, 1480. Museo nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.

Antonio del Pollaiolo, Hercules and Antaeus, c. 1470. Museo nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.

Leon Battista Alberti, Sant’Andrea in Mantova; interior view of the nave looking toward the apse; foundation stone laid 1472, nave and portico completed 1494. Mantua, Italy.  Scala Archives, New York City.

Further Reading: Francis William Kent. Lorenzo de’ Medici and the art of Magnificence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004

John M. Najemy. A History of Florence 1200-1575. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

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