The House of Medici
I would like to share one family that has brought enlightenment, to the world, but especially to Europe in 15th to 17th century. It is the Medici, the godfather of The Renaissance. It was started from a small bank that they owned. The family invested in a pirate to sponsor his campaign to become a pope. From pirate into pope, is there stranger investment than that? The Medici saw the potential of that strange investment. Fortunately, it paid off hugely for the family. The papal support brought great benefits to the business.
It was not the only strange things they invested. The family has been recognized for their patronage to unique and talented artists. One that stood up is Filippo Brunelleschi, a maverick architect that has brought back classic style to his design. His eccentric style could not get him much sponsor. Cosimo de’ Medici, however, spotted him, and saw the potential in him. He brought his style to the city of Florence, to the admiration of many people. His great achievement was the Florence cathedral dome, a proof of his architectural, mathematical, and engineering genius. He is also the inventor of ‘perspective’, a new way to draw three-dimensional objects in two dimensions.
Cosimo brought the beginning of renaissance. Art industry and market grew abundantly in the city of Florence, an opportunity for any artist to introduce his/her creativity and get sponsored. Cosimo, especially, treated the artists not as worker. Rather than pushing them to complete their commissions, he believed that positive morale is important and the precondition of magnificent arts. The family built art school and has raised the greatest artist of the century such as Sandro Boticelli and Michaelangelo, bringing the generation on its peak of creativity.
And as always, success brings criticism. Their success brought critics from Girolamo Savonarola, a priest and leader who condemn the Renaissance art as immoral arts that have offended God greatly. After the death of Lorenzo I de’ Medici, grandson of Cosimo de’ Medici who lead the state at that point of time, Savonarola brought hostility to the Renaissance, burning what he considered as immoral arts and literature.
It was not the end for the Medici. Lorenzo has prepared the next generation to lead a ‘career’ in church. Eventually Giovanni, his second son raised up to become a pope under the name Leo X. To my surprise, he was the one with whom Martin Luther has opposed to. Giovanni was a greedy pope, his extravagant lifestyle has brought great debt, and he covered it by selling letter of forgiveness to people in a large scale, one business that only a pope can do. It brought anger and protest that has split the Christianity into two, the Roman Catholic and Protestant.
Not only in visual arts and sculpture, the Medici has brought a revolution in science as well. His patronage to a genius like Galileo Galilei has brought up new and thought-provoking findings; one of them was the truth that earth is revolving around the sun, and not vice-versa. He was appointed to become a teacher for Medici’s next generation leader. Expressing his gratitude, he named the four Jupiter moons he discovered as Medici stars, carving the name of the family into the universe. At the end of his life, however, Galileo lost the support from the Medici family as he stood against the papal opposition to his sun-centered universe theory. Following the trial, Galileo is under house arrest until the end of his life in 1642.
It’s a story of a family that has brought rebirth, renaissance to Europe. Their open-mindedness brought up the great artists of all time. From the start, they invested their money not to the material things, but to people; artists and mathematical genius that has brought up many inventions and discovery. They are willing to be different and they are believer of human potential. As result, their name soars from a local bank to the universe.
- I wrote this article based on a documentary film titled The Medici: Godfathers of The Renaissance.
- For more about innovation lesson that the Medici can teach us, check out the book The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. Alternatively, you can get the e-book free here in The Pirate’s Dilemma.