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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

“The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall”, by Christopher Hibbert

364 pages, William Morrow and Company, ISBN-13: 978-0688003395

The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert, the late English writer, historian and biographer, is a remarkable account about the meteoric rise and calamitous fall of perhaps Florence’s most powerful and influential family. Known for its eccentric and fascinating members, the Medici was a family of prestige that had a considerable impact over the Papacy, the development of a stable government in Florence, the finances of Italy and foreign nations, as well as the unity of the numerous kingdoms within the boundaries of Tuscany. Hibbert’s work attempts to shine a light on these just-this-side-of-respectable folks through a series of biographies of each and every member of the Medici clan, thoroughly examining the lives of its most significant representatives, such as: Cosimo de’ Medici “il Vecchio” (the Elder); Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici “il Gottoso” (the Gouty); Lorenzo de’ Medici “il Magnifico” (the Magnificent); Piero de’ Medici “il Sfortunato” (the Unlucky); Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany;  Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany; Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany; Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici (Pope Leo X); Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici (Pope Clement VII); Giovanni Angelo de’ Medici (Pope Pius IV); Alessandro Ottaviano de’ Medici (Pope Leo XI); and many more, besides.

It was an imposing family, indeed, of which the Tuscans, especially the Florentines, depended on economically, politically, religiously and sociably. They all intended, in one way or another, to reach a maximum, stable union between the members to fortify their administration and gain more power and, and while some attempts succeeded brilliantly – the family produced four, FOUR, Popes! – often outside factors such as wars and venomous adversaries – like the Pazzi, Albizzi and Borgias; or religious leaders such as Girolamo Savonarola and Pope Sixtus IV – produced major setbacks to the flourishing and decaying glory of this political, financial and religious dynasty. It also seems to me rather peculiar how, even when their economic atmosphere and social strata varied from one generation to the other, the head members greatly resembled each other in their passions, activities and interests, despite of Florence’s drastic alterations. It was not always all blood-and-guts all the time: from the 15th to the 18th Century Florence underwent an unpredictable but relatively safe period of governance, economics and religion under the directorate of the Medici. They were responsible for the creation of the Medici Bank, one of the largest and most remarkable banks in Europe during its heyday; the creation of four Popes (see above); two queens of France (Caterina de’ Medici, wife of Henri II, and Marie de’ Medici, wife of Henri IV); and so on and so forth. The magnitude of the Medici’s historical footprint, which can still be admired in present day, will remain as a cultural and societal treasure in the years to come.

The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall effectively portrays the vibrant (and violent) era known as the Renaissance: the development and expansion of Italian territory, the multiple invasions of Tuscany and, lastly, the multiple and lasting achievements of the Medici. It demonstrates how the Renaissance, despite of its popularity as a prosperous period of time, faced numerous hitches and wasn’t a time of static restfulness and splendor. Despite the turmoil (or maybe because of it) some of history’s most acclaimed artists, writers, poets, scientists, musicians, scholars and philosophers lived during this period and, eventually, motivated the foundation of many social movements, ideologies and philosophies. This book not only expounds deeply the social structure, intricate customs and political complexity of that time, but also gives the reader a wider perception of the Renaissance itself.

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