How Did the Medici Family Support the Arts?

The wealthy and powerful Medici Family played a prominent role in supporting the arts throughout the Renaissance period. Here’s how.

Aug 11, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art
how did medici family support arts

 

The Medici family, also known as the House of Medici, were one of the most powerful and influential dynasties of the Renaissance era. The large, wealthy family ruled over Florence from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Through their generous patronage of the arts and the humanities they gave financial security to some of the most famous artists in the entire history of art, offering them room to truly flourish. In fact, we can almost thank the Medici family for spearheading the entire Renaissance through their support of artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Filippo Brunelleschi. It is for this reason that they are often referred to as the Godfathers of the Renaissance.

 

The Medici Family Hosted and Supported Artists

botticelli birth venus
The Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, 1485, via the Uffizi Gallery

 

The Medici were a family of bankers with extensive wealth, and they were more than happy to indulge their capital in the arts. Many of the most celebrated works of art from the Renaissance were commissioned by the Medici family, from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, 1485, to Donatello’s David, 1430-1440. As well as commissioning the most talented artists from the start of their careers to produce significant, monumental sculptures and paintings, they also hosted artists within their lavish homes, inviting them to live with them and attend social events and soirees.

 

Michelangelo lived with them from his teenage years, almost like a member of the family, while Leonardo da Vinci would entertain guests by playing the lute. Offering such stability to artists at the start of their careers was a bold move that paid off in dividends for the Medici’s, benefitting both artist and patron in the long term.

 

The Family Harnessed the Political Impact of Art

Raffaello Sanzio Portrait of Leo X with the Cardinals Luigi de ‘Rossi and Giulio de’ Medici
Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520) Portrait of Leo X with the Cardinals Luigi de ‘Rossi and Giulio de’ Medici, image courtesy of Sky History

 

Art for the Medici family was the ultimate display of wealth, status and power. They embraced portraiture as a means of showcasing their political dominion, inviting in artists including Benvenuto Cellini, Francesco Salviati, Raphael and Bronzino to portray the family’s most influential members. Portraits were often loaded with hidden political meaning, presenting a version of the family members that they believed would best serve their ambitions, in early examples of propaganda and advertising. Some portraits even portrayed Medici family members as mythological characters, likening the traits of the ancient gods to the family members in an attempt to boost their public status. 

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They Supported Architecture

Filippo Brunelleschi architect, Duomo Dome of Florence, Italy, Santa Maria
Filippo Brunelleschi architect, Duomo Dome of Florence, Italy, Santa Maria

 

Along with public and private art commissions, the Medici’s also supported the careers of numerous architects, giving them substantial capital to produce many of the Italian Renaissance’s most significant buildings, many of which are still surviving today. Perhaps the best known is the arched Duomo in the center of Florence, designed by the artist and designer Filippo Brunelleschi, which, with its ostentatious arches, showcased the dawn of a new and ambitious era in Renaissance architecture. Other buildings funded by the Medici family include the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (formerly a family home), the San Lorenzo Church in Florence and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, also in Florence.

 

The Medici Family Were Music Patrons

grand piano Bartolomeo Cristofori
A grand piano designed by Bartolomeo Cristofori, 1700

 

While the Medici are best known for their patronage of the visual arts, they also spread their wealth into the arena of music. In fact, the Medici’s were so influential on Renaissance music, they are often credited with the development of the Florentine Camerata (a group of poets and musicians), which is widely recognized as the birthplace of opera as we know it today. The Medici’s commissioned music from composers including Guillaume Dufay, Heinrich Isaac, Bartolomeo Cristofori, Alexander Agricola, Johannes Ghiselin and Antonio Vivaldi. Impressively, one of the Medici’s favored musicians, Cristofori is credited with inventing the piano, an invention that the Medici family were proud to share amongst their wealthy contemporaries.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.