Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Miles J. Unger

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Last year, I visited the Medici Palaces in Florence. Walking through Lorenzo’s home, I tried to imagine the Renaissance greats like Botticelli, Michelangelo, Angelo Poliziano and more importantly, Lorenzo himself having lived and breathed in these rooms. I think it was after my Florentine sojourn that I became even more fascinated with the Medicis and particularly with Lorenzo, the man whose contribution to one of the greatest periods in history – the most dynamic, alive and creative – was so dimensional. Dying in his early forties, in his short life, Lorenzo managed to be a brilliant political strategist, a poet, a philosopher, a song-writer even, a benevolent patron, a lover of aesthetics. Florence after-Lorenz suffered its great decline in the eyes of the world. From the center of knowledge and culture, it became ravaged and forgotten as the centers shifted West to the New World and the more stable European cities. Presiding over the last great years of Florence, the nearly mythical city, Lorenzo truly did earn the moniker of ‘Il Magnifico’ – the magnificent.

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(Lorenzo receiving tributes from foreign ambassadors, Vasari. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence)

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(The Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule, Ghirlandaio. Sassetti Chapel, Santa Trinita, Florence. The Medici family members along with Lorenzo are depicted here.)

Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Miles J. Unger is an objective portrait of one of the greatest Renaissance geniuses – more importantly, it’s a very evocative portrait. The writer captures not just the man but the immediate political and social context of Florence and the rest of Italy – which is crucial to understanding how and why Lorenzo rose to power. The turbulent, violent and unpredictable times that Lorenzo grew up in and then ruled over almost makes Westeros look peaceful. One appreciates this man who managed to survive the dis-loyalties, the violence, the attempted murder, the betrayals, the constant political shifts to rise to power and become First Citizen, de facto ruler of Florence – all of this when he was still in his 20s.

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(Palazzo Medici in Florence – Lorenzo lived here from boyhood until his last years. This was also the sight of many a celebration like Lorenzo’s marriage and entertainment of foreign dignitaries. Many Renaissance greats like Botticelli and Michelangelo also lived/dined here.)

 

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(The Chapel of the Magi with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli. Palazzo Medici, Florence)

At the same time, a lot of the idealistic perceptions I had about Lorenzo were proven wrong. I realized that a lot of the characteristics I was assigning to Lorenzo actually belonged to his grandfather, the original Father of the Nation, Cosimo. Lorenzo was far from ideal, yet his flaws made him all the more human and I grew to appreciate the struggles of this very flawed man – a struggle not just to survive himself but also a struggle to make Florence the greatest city in the world. Arrogant, over-confident and addicted to sensual pleasures in his youth, the Pazzi conspiracy (where his beloved brother was assassinated) led to his transition from youth to the second Father of the Nation.

I think what I came to admire the most and what made him so riveting to me in the first place was that Lorenzo, above all, was a visionary. Beyond his own needs, beyond amassment of wealth and status (which, it is true, he did a great many wrongs to acquire), he was passionately invested in the future of his great city – at times, risking his own finances and life for the sake of his beloved Florence. Above all, he seemed to know that great men do not become great merely through showing off their grandeur. Lorenzo, unlike other rulers in Europe, never became so ‘kingly’ that he forgot his roots. A big part of his reputation emerged from his ability to charm all kinds of people – discussing intellectual topics with philosophers and poets, and talking political stratagem with politicians on one hand, and engaging in everyday chat, and imparting wisdom to the poor and the common on the other.

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(The altar at the Florence Cathedral. The Pazzi Conspirators struck the Medici brothers near the altar resulting in the murder of Guiliano, while Lorenzo escaped)

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(Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. The sight of political machinery and strategies of Renaissance Florence)

The author also brings to light Lorenzo’s inner life decoded through his poems and letters. And this is something that helped lower the romance I had assigned to to Lorenzo’s seemingly perfect life. Instead, I developed more of an understanding of his agonies, loneliness, insecurities and sadly, the fact that his youth, devoted to Florence, wasted away in fears and paranoia with endless hours devoted to politics, when his real passions and dreams lay elsewhere.

Inspired by the book, now I am all set to visit Florence again this year and walk the same places I walked last year, but this time with a new understanding.

 

Rating: 5/5

Featured Image: Portrait of Lorenzo by Agnolo Bronzino. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

(By Misha)

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