The earlier years of his power were associated with many stirring events which exercised no inconsiderable influence on the state of learning.
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
Lorenzo’s services to learning were inspired by feelings infinitely more noble than those actuating his political plans. A patriotism as lofty as it was beneficent led him to desire that his country should be in the van of Italian progress in Renaissance studies. His sagacious prevision enabled him to proportion the nature and extent of the benefit he conferred to the need it was intended to supply. Many statesmen do more harm than good by failing to appreciate this law of supply and demand. They grant more than is required, and that which should have been a boon becomes a burden. Charles V, at the time of the Reformation, on more than one occasion committed this error, as also did Wolsey and Mazarin. Lorenzo, like Richelieu, recognized the value of moderation in giving, and caused every favor to be regarded as a possible earnest of others to come.
The earlier years of his power were associated with many stirring events which exercised no inconsiderable influence on the state of learning. For example, his skilful playing off of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan against Ferrante, King of Naples, led to greater attention being directed by the Florentines to Neapolitan and Milanese affairs, with the result that humanists and artists from both these places paid frequent visits to Florence, where they were welcomed by Lorenzo as his guests. Then when the revolt of the small city of Volterra from Florentine rule was suppressed by Lorenzo’s agents, with a rigorous severity that cast a stain on their master’s name, owing to many unoffending scholars having suffered to the extent of losing their all, Lorenzo made noble amends. Not only did he generously assist the inhabitants to repair their losses, not only did he make grants to the local scholars and send them copies of many of the codices in his own library to supply the loss of their books which had been burned by the soldiery, but he purchased large estates in the neighborhood, that the citizens might benefit by his residence among them. In this way, too, he brought the Volterran scholars into more intimate relations with the Florentine humanists, and thus contributed to the further diffusion of the benefits of the Renaissance.
All was not plain sailing, however, as regards the progress of the “New Learning.” Despite his efforts, Lorenzo could not prevent its development being checked during the papal-Neapolitan quarrel with Florence. That war originated in a dispute with Pope Sixtus IV, who kept Italy in a ferment during the whole duration of his pontificate, 1471-1484. Were no other proof forthcoming of Lorenzo’s marvellous diplomatic genius than this one fact, that he checkmated the political schemes of Sixtus, and finally so neutralized his influence as to render him well nigh impotent for evil-doing, such an achievement was sufficient to stamp him one of the greatest masters of statecraft Europe has known. In any estimate of his ability we must take into account the unsatisfactory character of many of the instruments wherewith he had to achieve his purposes, and also the fact that he had neither a great army at his back with which to enforce the fulfilment of treaty obligations–for Florence never was a city of soldiers–nor had he the prestige of an official position to lend weight to his words. To all intents and purposes he was a private citizen of the Florentine republic. Yet such was the dynamic power of the man’s marvellous personality, and the reputation he had earned, even in his early years, for supreme prescience and far-reaching diplomatic subtlety, that far and wide he was regarded as the greatest force in Italian politics. Sixtus sallied forth to crush; he returned to the Vatican a crushed and a discredited man, to die of sheer chagrin over his defeat by Lorenzo in his designs upon Ferrara.
Then followed the memorable dispute, in 1472-1473, over the bishopric of Pisa, when the Pope’s nominee, Francesco Salviati, was refused possession of his see, Pisa being one of the Tuscan towns under the control of Florence. To this Sixtus retaliated by seeking the friendship of Ferrante of Naples, a move Lorenzo anticipated by forming the league between Florence, Milan, and Venice. This league thoroughly alarmed both the Pope and Ferrante, and on the latter visiting Rome in 1475 a papal-Neapolitan alliance was formed.
Even then hostilities might not have broken out had the young Duke of Milan not been assassinated in 1476, leaving an infant heir. This entailed a long minority, with all its dangers, and the apprehensions regarding these were not fanciful, inasmuch as Lodovico Sforza, uncle of the baby Duke, usurped the position under pretext of acting as regent. These crimes were plainly responsible for the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478 against the Medici themselves, a conspiracy which resulted in Giuliano, the younger brother of Lorenzo, being murdered in the cathedral, during mass, on the Sunday before Ascension, while Lorenzo himself was slightly wounded. That Sixtus and his nephew were accessories before the fact is now regarded as unquestionable. The vengeance taken by the enraged Florentines on the conspirators, their relatives, friends, and property, was terrible; the innocent, alas! being sacrificed indiscriminately with the guilty.
The Archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati, had entered eagerly into the scheme, and, although his sacred office prevented him from actually assisting in the deed, he was present in the cathedral until the signal was given for the perpetration of the deed, when he left the building to secure the Palazzo Publico. He was therefore summarily hanged with the others from the windows of the civic buildings. Sixtus made the execution, or the “murder” as he called it, of Salviati, his pretext for calling on his allies to make war on Florence. When he saw, however, that this action was only throwing the city more completely than ever into the arms of the Medici, he changed his tactics and said he had no quarrel with “his well-beloved children of Florence,” but only with “that son of iniquity and child of perdition, Lorenzo de’ Medici,” and those who had aided and abetted him, among whom the humanists were expressly mentioned. Against Lorenzo and his associates a brief of excommunication was launched, and the city was urged to regain the papal favor by surrendering the offenders.