Cosimo de'Medici of Florence: Biography & Overview

Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Meet Cosimo de' Medici, a banker who rose from the ranks of the middle class to the highest levels of power and society in Florence, Italy. Explore the world of Renaissance Florence and meet two of the great artists he supported.

A Rising Star

On September 27, 1389, Cosimo de' Medici was born into a family of middle class bankers that lived in Florence, Italy. His father, Giovanni, introduced his son to the family banking business at a young age. As he grew older, Cosimo took on increasing duties in the family business and he eventually became the head of the bank his family owned.

As a young man, Cosimo developed a particularly important relationship with the Catholic Church. During this period, the Catholic Church was the dominant religious faith of Europe, and the Pope, as the head of the church, was one of the most powerful men in Europe. Cosimo recognized the important role of the Catholic Church and cultivated a friendship with the Pope. Soon the Medici banks were handling most of the Church's financial accounts. Some Florentine's even referred to the Medici bank as 'God's Bank'. The patronage of the Church also led the wealthy of Florence to use the Medici bank.

Portrait of Cosimo de

Patron of the Arts

With the increased wealth from the Pope and the wealthy families of Florence, the Medici became one of the most important families in the city. Cosimo took this higher position seriously and took an interest in politics and in public service. During this period, one of the primary responsibilities of the elite in Italy was to patronize the arts. Wealthy Italians funded talented artists who then produced artistic masterpieces to honor their cities and their families.

As a member of the ruling elite of Florence, Cosimo funded several important artists, including Filippo Brunelleschi, an eccentric but brilliant architect. For decades, the great Cathedral of Florence had lacked a roof because the architect who had originally designed it was unable to create a roof structure stable enough to encompass the space. Brunelleschi proposed a new inward curving domed roof that would finish the cathedral, and Cosimo provided the funding to pay workers and purchase supplies. In 1436, Brunelleschi's dome was complete, and all the people of Florence flocked to see the magnificent dome he had created. Today, the magnificent Cathedral of Florence still stands as a monument to Brunelleschi's genius and Cosimo's generosity.

Photograph by Dudva of the dome of the Florence Cathedral
Photograph of Florence Cathedral

Cosimo also supported the great Renaissance sculptor Donatello, who created several statues to decorate the Cathedral of Florence after Brunelleschi's dome was completed. Cosimo also commissioned a statue for his palazzo. Donatello created a free-standing bronze statue of David. This statue was one of the first statues created in Renaissance Italy that was truly intended to be viewed from all sides. Most art historians consider it to be Donatello's greatest work. As a patron of the arts, Cosimo helped to fund and support artists who created some of the greatest works of the period.

Photograph of Donatello

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