The final decade of Lorenzo’s life constituted the midsummer bloom of the Tuscan renaissance, the meridian of the intellectual and artistic supremacy of Florence. In Lorenzo it found its fullest expression.
Featuring Oliphant Smeaton from his book The Medici and the Italian Renaissance published in 1901.
Previously on Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance. Now we continue.
Time: 1449 – 1492
In conjunction with his patronage of printing, there was no line of effort in which Lorenzo did more real good than in collecting manuscripts and antiquities, and in making them practically public property. On this account he is styled, by Niccolo Leonicino, “Lorenzo de’ Medici, the great patron of learning in this age, whose messengers are dispersed through every part of the earth for the purpose of collecting books on every science, and who has spared no expense in procuring for your use, and that of others who may devote themselves to similar studies, the materials necessary for your purpose.” The agents he employed traveled through Italy, Greece, Europe, and the East–Hieronymo Donato, Ermolao Barbaro, and Paolo Cortesi being the names of some of his most trusted “commissioners.” But the coadjutor whose aid he principally relied on, to whom he committed the care and arrangement of his vast museum and great library, was Poliziano, who himself made frequent excursions throughout Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa to discover and purchase such remains of antiquity as suited the purposes of his patron. Another successful agent, though at a later date, was Giovanni Lascaris, who twice journeyed into the East in search of manuscripts and curios. In the second of these he brought back upward of two hundred copies of valuable codices from the monasteries on Mount Athos.
To still another service rendered by Lorenzo to the cause of the Renaissance attention must be called–the founding of the Florentine Academy for the study of Greek. This institution, distinct, be it remembered, from the ‘Uffiziali dello Studio’ (or high-school), exercised a marvellous influence on the progress of the “New Learning.” Accordingly, as Roscoe says, succeeding scholars have been profuse in their acknowledgments to Lorenzo, who first formed the establishment from which, to use their own classical figure, as from the Trojan horse, so many illustrious champions have sprung, and by means of which the knowledge of the Greek tongue was extended not only throughout Italy, but throughout Europe as well, from all the countries of which numerous pupils flocked to Florence–pupils who afterward carried the learning they had received to their native lands.
Of this institution the first public professor was Joannes Argyropoulos, who, having enjoyed the patronage of Cosmo and Piero, and directed the education of Lorenzo, was selected by the latter as the fittest person to be the earliest occupant of the chair. During his tenure of it he sent out such pupils as Poliziano, Donato Acciaiuoli, Janus Pannonius, and the famous German humanist Reuchlin. Argyropoulos did not hold the appointment long. His death took place at Rome in 1471, and he was succeeded first by Theodore of Gaza, and then by Chalcondylas. Poliziano certainly discharged the duties of the office frequently, but at first only as ‘locum tenens’. He was then almost incessantly engaged in travelling for his patron in Greece and Asia Minor, and was too valuable a coadjutor to be tied down to the routine of teaching until he had completed his work. During the next decade he became the “professor,” and discharged the duties with a genius and an adaptability to circumstances that won for him the admiration and love of all his students.
This decade was also remarkable for the commencement of the devotion to the cultivation of literary style, a pursuit yet to reach its culmination in Poliziano in Florence and in Bembo and Sadoleto in Rome. Originality gradually gave place to conventionality, until men actually came to prefer the absurdities of Ciceronianism, and a cold, colorless adherence to hard-and-fast rules of composition, to a work throbbing with the pulsation of virile life. Humanism was beginning to take flight from Italy, to find a home and a welcome beyond the Alps.
The final decade of Lorenzo’s life constituted the midsummer bloom of the Tuscan renaissance, the meridian of the intellectual and artistic supremacy of Florence. In Lorenzo it found its fullest expression. He was typical of its spiritual as well as of its moral meaning; typical, too, of that mental unrest which sought escape from the pressing problems of an enigmatic present by reverting to the study of a classic past whose ethical, social, and political difficulties were rarely of a complex character, but concerned themselves principally with what may be termed the elementary verities of man’s relations to the Deity and to his fellows.
Lorenzo’s amazing versatility has been pronounced a fault by some who believed they detected in him the potential capacity of rivaling Dante, Petrarch, and Ariosto on their own ground, had he only conserved his energies. This is a foolish supposition. Lorenzo’s many-sidedness was but the reflection in himself, as the most accurate mirror of the time, of all that wondrous susceptibility to beauty, that eager craving after the realization of the [greek: to kalon] (“the Good”) so characteristic of the best Hellenic genius, whether we study it in the dramas of Sophocles or the ‘Republic’ of Plato or in the statesmanship of Pericles. If Lorenzo had resembled his grandfather and concentrated his energies upon finance and politics, there might have been a line of reigning Medicean princes in Florence half a century earlier than actually was the case, but Europe would have been distinctly the loser by the absence of the greatest personal force making for culture which characterized the Renaissance.
This last decade of Lorenzo’s life–from his thirty-first to his forty-second year–was memorable in many respects. In the year 1481 he was again exposed to the danger of assassination. Battista Frescobaldi and two assistants in the Church of the Carmeli, and again on Ascension Day, made an attempt to stab him, but were frustrated by the vigilance of Lorenzo’s friends. There is no doubt that this second attempt was also instigated by Girolamo Riario, the nephew of Sixtus IV. Thereafter Lorenzo never moved out without a strong bodyguard of friends and adherents–a precaution rendered necessary by the repeated plots that were being hatched against him by his enemies.