Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Medici, McClellan and Star Wars?!

I am currently reading a book called "The House of Medici: Its rise and fall" by Christopher Hibbert. The Medicis were a political dynasty who "ruled" Florence for 200+ years. I put ruled between bunny ears because technically Florence was a republic - by their standards, not ours.

They were bankers first and foremost, but under the watchful tutelage of three generations of very capable Medicis, they seamlessly branched out into politics, art patronage and even the clergy. And Italian politics of the age was pretty freaking nasty. It was like playing a boisterous game of Risk. Elusive alliances, ruthless backstabbing, mind-bending diplomatic overtures - the whole package. I think it is fair to say the Medicis birthed the renaissance. Look at the list of painters, artists and sculptors they discovered and supported lavishly: Donatello, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Brunelleschi. Man that thing reads like the Louvre's guidebook (up top!).

Two of the Medicis went on to become popes. Did you read that? Two! Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici became Pope Leo X in 1513. His cousin Guilio de Medici became pope in 1523. Both were related to the family's greatest member, Lorenzo de Medici (also called Lorenzo the Magnificent or, for you Italian fetishists, Il Magnifico) - Giovanni was his son and Guilio was his nephew whom he later adopted.

In short, the Medicis were Kennedys, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies all rolled into one. And their names are just so awesome you can't help but savor them like Bazooka Joe bubble gum: Cosimo, Giovanni, Guiliano, Lorenzo, Piero.

I was always interested in finding out more about the Medicis and their rise to power. So when my friend JP gave this book as a birthday present I was quite elated. It has been a pretty interesting read so far - I am about half done - and I want to share a few interesting passages from the book.

Ready? Here we go:

-"Lorenzo was now twenty, virile, clever and inexhaustibly energetic...he was was quite strikingly ugly". This is how Hibbert introduces the greatest Medici to the readers. Way to put someone down, dude. Pretty hilarious, though. His pic doesn't look that bad. Judge for yourselves:

Lorenzo deep in thoughts about discovering the next budding artist. Or pwning the next fiefdom.

-"When urged by the Florentines to move his [Florentine army general] men more quickly, he ridiculed such exhortation from 'mere mechanics who knew nothing of war'". When I read this line I thought, "Hmm. Where have I seen this tactic of belittling your leaders at the time of war before?" And then it struck me. General McClellan, the commander of all Union troops at one point in the Civil war, had nothing but contempt for Lincoln and the cabinet. In letters to his wife, he called Lincoln well-meaning baboon. Wow.

From left to right: man and baboon.

-To avert a pan-Italian crisis that would have consumed Florence Lorenzo took a peace mission trip down to Naples. Florentines were suspicious of the King of Naples. Why? Apparently, "King Ferrante [of Naples] was reported to preserve bodies of his enemies embalmed in a private museum".

Doesn't this sound a lot like a scene in a certain sci-fi classic made by a gentleman by the name of George Lucas? Maybe this picture of Han Solo frozen in Carbonite by King Ferrante Jabba the Hutt will refresh your memory:

This could have been Lorenzo instead of Harrison 

Fortunately for Lorenzo and the Florentines (that could be a great band name, BTW), the King wasn't that bad and let Lorenzo come and leave in peace. Literally. They signed a peace treaty in about ten weeks.

Finally let me leave you with a quote by the quintessential renaissance man Leonard da Vinci to give you a glimpse of the power of the Medicis.

"The Medici made me and the Medici destroyed me"

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