By William Landon, Northern Kentucky University
As a result of the lively nature of his father, Piero’s, household, Lorenzo de’ Medici came to embody the most important elements of the Florentine Renaissance, which found itself turning to new horizons and new areas of focus.
Lorenzo de’ Medici
Lorenzo de’ Medici was the eldest son of Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici and Lucrezia Tornabuoni. He was born in 1449. He had three older sisters and one younger brother, Giuliano, who figured prominently in the young Lorenzo’s life.
When Lorenzo was five years old, Piero hired Gentile Becchi, a respected and affable educator and priest, to be his tutor. Within a couple of years, Lorenzo had mastered Latin, and had begun to read classical literature.
Lorenzo’s Intellectual Life
He combined it with equal doses of the Florentine colossi—Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio—who had so elevated the Florentine vernacular language that it matched, if not surpassed, Latin in its expressive abilities.
Lorenzo also had the opportunity to study Platonic philosophy with the greatest Platonist of his day—Marsilio Ficino—and to study Greek with the brilliant Argyropoulos.
As John Hale once noted, “Far from determining the tone of Florentine intellectual life, Lorenzo was its product.”
This article comes directly from content in the video series How the Medici Shaped the Renaissance. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Platonic Academy and Early Florentine Renaissance
Cosimo de’ Medici, Lorenzo’s grandfather, had provided patronage for the Platonic school in Florence, and offered his country villa as the school’s residence. Informally chaired by Marsilio Ficino, the Platonic Academy began to change the direction of Renaissance thought.
Where the early Florentine Renaissance had been almost exclusively political, seeking advice from the ancients on questions of republican government and the ‘political man’, the tidal wave of manuscript discoveries—and the addition of the Greek classics—brought new questions to the fore.
The human animal had, by necessity, to be political, as a result of its governmental organization and affiliation, but man was also, by nature, sensual, creative—a creature that craved beauty.
Common Tongue Stymied
Young Lorenzo and his friends in the Platonic school sought to express such sublimity in their own language. Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio had illuminated this path in the previous century. However, the vernacular—the ‘vulgar or common tongue’—had been stymied.
This happened because of the resurgence of classical Latin and its links to the Florentine political system via the humanists who once guided it. Medici patronage, one might argue, allowed for these new investigations to take place and to bear fruit.
Love and Nature
As an early teen, Lorenzo began writing poetry and prose—with themes as universal as love and nature. And, while he could easily have relied on the Latin poetry of Ovid to guide him, he chose instead to study and to emulate Florence’s vernacular giants—who he helped to bring back into favor.
In 1466, Lorenzo wrote:
If we want to prove the worth of our language, we need only apply this test: does it express with ease all our thoughts and all our feelings? Nothing can be more satisfactory than the answer given us by experience. Our countrymen Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, have in their verses and discourses, whether grave or gay, proved clearly that every thought and feeling finds easy and natural expression in this tongue of ours.
The Florentine Language
Lorenzo and his friends believed that there was beauty in the Florentine language, and that when combined with Platonic notions of the human capacity to appreciate and to understand love, their native language could surpass even the greatest writers of the classical world.
In fact, Lorenzo believed that the Florentine language brought together the best of what Latin and Greek had to offer. And he was right. The outpouring of vernacular literature in the second half of the 15th century added new lustre to Florence’s already bejewelled crown.
Lorenzo’s Vernacular Poetry
Moreover, many scholars have suggested that Lorenzo’s vernacular poetry, taken together with the works of his friends and contemporaries—such as Luigi Pulci and Angelo Poliziano—formed the bridge between the classical world and our own.
In time their example was taken up, internationally, by François Rabelais and later still by William Shakespeare—both of whom transmitted some of the Renaissance’s most complex ideas to their contemporary audiences in their respective vernaculars.
So, Lorenzo’s importance as a poet and author must be not underestimated.
Common Questions about Lorenzo de’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance
When Lorenzo was five years old, his father, Piero, hired Gentile Becchi, a respected and affable educator and priest, to be his tutor.
Cosimo de’ Medici, Lorenzo de’ Medici’s grandfather, had provided patronage for the Platonic school in Florence, and offered his country villa as the school’s residence.
Lorenzo de’ Medici and his friends believed that there was beauty in the Florentine language, and that when combined with Platonic notions of the human capacity to appreciate and to understand love, their native language could surpass even the greatest writers of the classical world.