Usury and Bonfires

Cosimo the Elder and The Medici Patronage

Duration: 3 hrs
Site visited: Convent of San Marco, Chapel of the Magi in Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Basilica of San Lorenzo*
Price for a group of 1-4pax: €225
Additional price for headsets from 5-10 pax: €30
*Entry fees: not included
NB. Churches require a dress code. Please dress appropriately with covered shoulders and knees.

Usury & Bonfires

The 3 main sites we will explore on this tour are connected in many ways but also by the fact that that they all received copious investments from Cosimo il Vecchio, the patriarch of the Medici family. This extraordinary politician and banker was also known as Cosimo Father of the Nation. These churches allow us to follow his patronage and understand the many interesting facets of the mind and society of Renaissance Florence.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Florence was one of the most important banking centres of Europe, with the Medici family and bank, one of the richest and most powerful. But one of the main purposes of a bank, lend money with the payment of interest, was in those times considered usury, a cardinal sin. So, aside from benefiting the city-states and advancing the status of the Medici family, one of the main motivating factors of their religious patronage was the fear of the after-life.

From 1437, the Convent of San Marco will be subject to a period of architectural transformations commissioned by Cosimo and undertaken by one of his favorite architects, Michelozzo. The cloister and the library of the convent represent beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture. The convent also conserves Cosimo’s personal cell where he came to pray and meditate. The library also allows us to follow the contradictory thread that ties Humanist ideals to Religion leading to that extreme moment in history instigated by the fiery sermons of the great orator, Girolamo Savonarola, still known today as the Bonfire of the Vanities.

In the 15th century, San Marco was also home to the Dominican artist, Fra Angelico, who will be responsible for an incredible cycle of frescoes throughout the convent followed by Fra Bartolomeo in the 1600s. Today the museum, not only houses their paintings but it also conserves the works of Suor Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588), the first known woman artist of Florence.

Palazzo Medici Riccardi, commissioned in the 1440s by Cosimo and also designed by Michelozzo, holds one of Florence’s less visited treasures: the chapel decorated by Benozzo Gozzoli representing a surprisingly rich and intriguing Procession of the Magi where we recognize members of the family and other notables of the time. The palace will not only be the home of Cosimo, but also that of his grandson, Lorenzo il Magnifico, and among others, Michelangelo.

Basilica Of San Lorenzo, one of Florence’s oldest churches consecrated in the 4th century, was rebuilt in the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi whose proportioned design we still read today. Cosimo il Vecchio is buried in a pillar of the Basilica in front of the main alter as to remind posterity of his position and prestige. The complex of San Lorenzo houses the work of other remarkable artists: Donatello, Andrea del Verrocchio, Filippo Lippi, and Michelangelo. This is, after all, the Pantheon of the Medici family.