It was the Renaissance card which won the trick. With startling boldness, yet with consummate art, Lorenzo played the game of flattering Ferrante.
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
The result might have been predicted. The “brief” only tended to knit the bonds of association closer between Lorenzo and the “City of the Flower,” while the humanists to a man rallied round their patron. Even the choleric Filelfo, now a very old man, who had been on anything but friendly terms with the Medici, addressed two bitter satires to Sixtus, in which the Pope was styled the real aggressor, while the great humanist offered to write a history of the whole transaction, that posterity might know the true facts. The only power which gave its adhesion to Sixtus was Naples, while Venice, Ferrara, and Milan declared for Florence.
Thus commenced that tedious war which not only ruined so many Florentine merchants, but retarded the cause of learning so materially. When the people were groaning under heavy taxes, when all coin which Lorenzo could scrape together had to be poured out to pay the ‘condottieri’, or soldiers of fortune, by whom the battles of Florence were fought, there was of course but short commons for the humanists who had made Florence their home. Many of those adapted themselves to circumstances, but others, to whom money was their god, left the banks of the Arno for those southern cities where the pinch of scarcity did not prevail.
In this campaign the Florentines gained but little prestige. The larger share of the cost was quietly suffered by their allies to fall on the city of bankers. The Milanese were occupied with their own affairs, owing to the ‘coup d’état’ accomplished by Lodovico Sforza. The Duke of Ferrara withdrew owing to some disagreement with the condottieri engaged by Lorenzo. The Venetians only despatched a small contingent under Carlo Montone and Diefebo d’Anguillari; accordingly, in the end, the whole burden of the struggle fell on Florence. The Magnifico’s position gradually became precarious, inasmuch as many persons declared the war to be in reality a personal quarrel between Pope Sixtus and the Medici. Complaints began to be heard that the public treasury was exhausted and the commerce of the city ruined, while the citizens were burdened with oppressive taxes. Lorenzo had the mortification of being told that sufficient blood had been shed, and that it would be expedient for him rather to devise some means of effecting a peace than of making further preparations for the war.
In these circumstances, and confronted by one of the most dangerous crises of his whole life, Lorenzo rose to the occasion and effected a solution of the difficulty by daring to perform what was undoubtedly one of the bravest acts ever achieved by a diplomatist. By some statesmen it might be condemned as foolhardy, by others as quixotic. Its very foolhardiness and quixotry fascinated the man it was intended to influence, the blood-thirsty, cruel, and pitiless Ferrante of Naples, who was restrained from crime by the fear neither of God nor man, and who had actually slain the condottiere Piccinino when he visited him under a safe-conduct from the monarch’s best ally. But the Renaissance annals are filled with the records of men and women whose natures are marvelous studies of contrasted and contradictory traits. Such was the Neapolitan tyrant. While a monster in much, he had his vulnerable points. He was ambitious to pose as a friend of the “New Learning,” and he knew that Lorenzo was not only the most munificent patron, but also one of the most illustrious exponents, of the Renaissance principles.
Although his enemy, Ferrante received Lorenzo with every demonstration of respect and satisfaction. He lost sight of the hostile diplomatist in the great humanist. Two Neapolitan galleys were sent to conduct him to Naples, and he was welcomed on landing with much pomp. Never did Lorenzo’s supreme diplomatic genius, never did his versatile powers as a statesman, as a scholar, as a patron of letters, and as a brilliant man of the world, blaze forth in more splendid effulgence than during his three-months’ stay in Naples. Though opposed by all the papal authority and resources; though Sixtus by turns threatened, cajoled, entreated, promised, in order to prevent Lorenzo having any success, the successor of St. Peter was beaten all along the line, and the Magnifico carried away with him a treaty, signed and sealed, which practically meant that henceforth Naples and the papacy would be in antagonistic camps.
It was the Renaissance card which won the trick. With startling boldness, yet with consummate art, Lorenzo played the game of flattering Ferrante. No ordinary adulation, however, would have had success with the Neapolitan Phaleris. He was too strong-minded a man for anything of that kind. But to be hailed by the great Renaissance patron of the period, by one also who was himself one of the leading humanists, as a brother-humanist and a fellow-patron of learning, was a delicate incense to his vanity which he could not resist. He liked to be consulted on matters of literary moment, and, when he blundered, Lorenzo was too shrewd a student of human nature to correct him.
Another fact in Lorenzo’s favor was that he had the warm support not only of the beautiful Ippolyta Maria, daughter of Cosmo’s friend, Francesco Sforza of Milan, and now wife of Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, King Ferrante’s heir, as well as of Don Federigo, the monarch’s younger son, who, along with Ippolyta, was a friend to the “New Learning,” but he also had the whole body of Neapolitan humanists on his side, scarce one of whom but had experienced in some form or another the Medicean bounty. Such powerful advocacy was not without its influence in bringing about the result; while Ferrante more and more realized that if the Florentine Medici were crushed he would have no ally to whom to look for help when the inevitable shuffle of the political cards took place on the death of Sixtus.