>>>>>>>>The Fifteenth Century AD, part 3. (The “Little” Friar)

Lorenzo the Magnificent.

In the Century after the Ciompi Rebellion, Lorenzo the Magnificent, as he was known to contemporary Florentines, was a powerful and enthusiastic patron of Renaissance culture in Italy. Indeed, he was more than a patron of the arts, and is also regarded as having been the ‘de facto’ ruler of Florence. He is known for his sponsorship of such artists as Botticelli and Michelangelo.

His reign was from 1469-1492, …

Lorenzo maintained good relations with Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire. The Florentine maritime trade with the Ottomans was a major source of wealth for the Medici. Like his grandfather (the illustrious Cosimo de Medici), he pursued a policy of maintaining peace, and keeping the major European states such as France, and the Holy Roman Empire, out of Italy.

Lorenzo’s predecessor was Piero the Gouty, …

His grandfather, Cosimo de Medici, was the first member of the family Medici to lead the republic of Florence and the Medici Bank, simultaneously. As one of the wealthiest men in Europe, Cosimo spent a fortune on government and philanthropy, such as public works and the arts. Lorenzo’s father, Piero the Gouty, was equally at the center of Florentine civic life, also as a patron of the arts and a collector, but perhaps was just not as talented at it as Cosimo.

Lorenzo was considered the most promising of the five children of Piero the Gouty and his wife Lucrezia. He was tutored by a bishop as well as the humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino. With his brother, Giuliano, he participated in jousting, hawking, hunting, and horse breeding for the ‘Palio’, a horse race in Siena. In 1469, aged 19, he won first prize in a jousting tournament sponsored by the Medici. While he was still a youth, Piero the Gouty had sent Lorenzo on many important diplomatic missions. These included trips to Rome, to meet important religious and political figures including the Pope. He wasn’t considered particularly handsome, however he was used as a model by Botticelli in his painting of ‘Mars and Venus.’ A friend said “although his face was not handsome, it was so full of dignity as to compel respect.” In the painting, ‘Madonna of the Magnificat,’ his mother Lucrezia is depicted as the Madonna, and Lorenzo is there, holding a pot of ink with her other children; ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ includes several generations of the Medici family. Sixteen-year-old Lorenzo is to the left, with his horse, prior to his departure on a diplomatic mission to Milan.

Other artists in Lorenzo’s court included Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo Buonarroti, who were all instrumental in achieving the 15th Century Renaissance. Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for three years, dining at the family table and participating in discussions lead by Marailio Ficino on a regular basis.

Cosimo had started the collection of books that became the Medici Library, and Lorenzo expanded it. Lorenzo’s agents retrieved, from the East, large numbers of classical works and he then employed a large workshop to copy these books and disseminate their contents across Europe. His group of scholarly friends, including Marsilio Ficino, Poliziano and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, studied Greek philosophers, and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with those of Christianity. Apart from a personal interest, Lorenzo also used the Florentine milieu of fine arts for his diplomatic efforts. An example includes the commission of Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Cosimo Rosselli from Rome to paint murals in the Sistine Chapel, a move that has been seen as solidifying his alliance with Pope Sixtus IV.

Lorenzo assumed a leading role in the state upon the death of his father, in 1469, when he was twenty. The Medici Bank had been drained by his grandfather’s building projects, constantly stressed by wars, political assets, and overall mismanagement, so the Bank was contracting seriously during the course of Lorenzo’s timeline.

The banks had collapsed because of the consequences of usury, but few were willing, or able, to say so.

—Although the “little friar” was.

The Florentine Oligarchs

The Florentine oligarchs who tried to oust Lorenzo from office now acquiesced in his power because they felt that tyranny was the only thing that could keep the Florentine enterprise going. And so Lorenzo strengthened his control of the city. However, an attempt on his life would raise his political stature to even new heights.

The Pazzi Conspiracy, in which a rival family to the Medici attacked Lorenzo, and his brother, scandalously within the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, in an attempt to seize control of the Florentine government. The conspiracy, later called the ‘Pazzi Conspiracy,’ even had an archbishop at the head of it. The plot was carried out on Easter Sunday in 1478.

Even more shockingly, perhaps from the common Florentine’s point of view, the assailants acted with the blessing of their patron—Pope Sixtus IV. Needless to say, the Church at this time was particularly corrupt. Lorenzo’s brother was killed, brutally stabbed to death in the Cathedral, but Lorenzo escaped with only a minor wound, having been defended, reportedly, by the poet Poliziano. News of the conspiracy spread throughout Florence and was brutally reacted to by the populace—such measures as the lynching of the archbishop of Pisa, and members of the Pazzi family, who were involved.

The Pazzi Conspiracy was the pretext that would allow Lorenzo to seize dictatorial power over Florence. In its aftermath, he was allowed to have as many armed bodyguards as he liked. Supported by his own version of the Praetorian Guard, Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’ began behaving more like a Roman emperor. His grandfather, who had erected the financial system which had allowed him to reach this point, the man who had tried to maintain the image of a modest, private citizen…whereas now the princely Lorenzo had dispensed with this quest to maintain such humility, but in his defense had inherited a disastrous situation from the start, in a point of view.

The “Little” Friar

An Italian Dominican friar from Ferrara, Savonarola, was a preacher active in Renaissance Florence who was known for his prophecies of civic glory, the destruction of secular art, and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule, and the exploitation of the poor. He called himself “the little friar.”

He walked practically everywhere, seeing horse-carriage rides as indulgent. Savonarola prophesied the coming of a biblical flood and a new Cyrus from the north who would reform the church. In 1494, when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, and threatened Florence, such prophecies seemed on the verge of fulfillment.

Savonarola instituted an extreme puritanical campaign, enlisting the active help of Florentine youth. Declaring that Florence would become the ‘New Jerusalem,’ the world center of Christianity and “richer, more powerful, more glorious than ever.” While Savonarola intervened with the French king, the Florentines expelled the ruling Medicis and, at the friar’s urging, established a “popular” republic. In 1495, when Florence refused to join Pope Alexander VI’s Holy League against the French, the Vatican summoned Savonarola to Rome. He disobeyed and further defied the Pope by preaching under a ban, highlighting his campaign for reform with processions, the ‘bonfire of the vanities,’ and pious theatricals. In retaliation, the Pope excommunicated him in 1497, and threatened to place all of Florence under an interdict. They were showing up to his sermons in the thousands.

His own reign as ‘de facto’ ruler of Florence was from 1495 to 1498 AD. The “little friar was small, but he had a big mind. He was very well read, being a monk of the Dominican Order, Savonarola was influenced by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Petrarch; in turn, he influenced Martin Luther, Henry VIII, John Calvin, and Luigi Sturzo. He expressed a preoccupation with the state of the Church and the world in his early poems. He began to write poetry of an apocalyptic bent, notably ‘On the Ruin of the World,’ and ‘On the Ruin of the Church,’ (1472 and 1475 AD). In these writings he singled out the papal court at Rome for special obloquy. A sermon heard by a preacher in Faenza persuaded him to abandon the world. In a letter he wrote to his father when he left home to join the Dominican order he hints at being troubled by the desires of the flesh. There is also a story that on the evening of his departure he dreamed that he was cleansed of such thoughts by a shower of icy water which prepared him for the ascetic life. In the unfinished treatise he left behind, later called ‘De contemptu Mundi,’ or “On Contempt for the World,” he calls upon readers to fly from this world of adultery, sodomy, murder and envy.

In 1475 Girolamo Savonarola went to Bologna where he knocked on the door of the convent of San Domenico, or the ‘Order of Friars Preachers,’ and asked to be admitted. As he told his father in his farewell letter: he wanted to become “a knight of Christ.”

Lorenzo the Magnificent’s heir was his eldest son, Piero…the Unfortunate.

In 1494 he squandered his father’s patrimony and brought down the Medici dynasty in Florence. His second son became Pope, and retook the city in 1512 with the aid of the Spanish army. Lorenzo’s nephew whom he adopted after the murder of his brother, in the Pazzi conspiracy, became Pope Clement VII, who formalized Medici rule of Florence by installing the city’s first hereditary duke.

In the convent, Savonarola took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. After a year he was ordained to the priesthood. He studied Scripture, logic, and Aristotelian philosophy, as well as Thomistic theology in the Dominican ‘studium,’ practiced preaching to his fellow friars and engaged in disputations. He then matriculated in the theological faculty to prepare for an advanced degree. Even as he continued to write devotional works and to deepen his spiritual life he was openly critical of what he perceived as the decline in convent austerity. In 1482, instead of returning to Bologna to resume his studies, Savonarola was assigned as lector, or teacher, in the Convent of San Marco in Florence. In San Marco, fra Girolamo taught logic to the novices, wrote instrumental manuals on ethics, logic, and philosophy, government, and composed devotional works, preparing his sermons for local congregations. As he recorded in his early notes, his preaching was not altogether successful. Florentines were put off by his foreign-sounding Ferrarese speech, his strident voice and his inelegant style.

While waiting for a friend in the Convent of San Giorgio he was studying a scripture when he suddenly conceived “about seven reasons” why the Church was about to be scourged and renewed. For the next several years Savonarola lived as an itinerant preacher with a message of repentance and reform in the cities and convents of north Italy. As his letters to his mother and his writings show, his confidence and sense of mission grew along with his widening reputation. In 1490 he was re-assigned to San Marco.

In the aftermath of the Pazzi Conspiracy the pope was enraged at the botched outcome, and retaliated in a way commensurate with his fury—by excommunicating Lorenzo. Pope Sixtus IV seized all the Medici assists that he could find, excommunicated Lorenzo, the surviving brother, and the entire government of Florence, ultimately putting the entire Florentine city-state under interdict.

The delict which brought this punishment down on the heads of the Florentines was “sacrilegious violence to ecclesiastical personages,” which the city fathers tried to ameliorate when they claimed that Salviati was not wearing his ecclesial robes when he launched his attack on the Signoria—but as one might imagine this had little effect quelling the uproar.

Pope Sixtus IV formed a military alliance with the king of Naples, whose son would lead an invasion of the Florentine Republic which would still be ruled by Lorenzo. Backed into a corner, and politically ignited by the Church scandal, Lorenzo rallied the citizens.

The war dragged on, and only through the diplomacy of Lorenzo, who personally traveled to Naples and became a prisoner of the king for several months…which successes lead to Lorenzo securing changes in the constitution of the Florentine Republic, that further enhanced his own power.

On his orders, priests continued to say Mass and administer the sacraments. When the papal armies threatened Florence, Lorenzo appealed to the King of France, the city’s traditional protector, who responded by sending a special ambassador with a guard of 600 men to support Lorenzo, and to threaten the Pope that France would withdraw its allegiance to him and would appeal to a General Council of the Church (the bugbear of the Papacy for generations) unless the censures against Florence were revoked and the conspirators punished.

More importantly, the Pazzi conspiracy allowed Lorenzo to save the family fortune by tapping into government funds. After the collapse of the Bruges branch, the Medici Bank was on its last legs. Knowing this, the pope did everything within his power to ruin the Medicis financially.

In the aftermath of Lorenzo’s successful suppression of the pope’s coup attempt, the pope “sequestered all Medici property, repudiated the debt of the Apostolic chamber to the Bank, and expelled Giovanni Tornabuoni from Rome.” Any one of these measures would have brought about the collapse of the already weakened Medici Bank, but for the failed coup which gave Lorenzo unlimited political power, which in turn gave him access to the state treasury.

Bread and Circuses

In the meantime, Lorenzo put his classical education to good use by creating a regime of bread and circuses which distracted the Florentine mob from the consequences of his looting and his tyranny. Seward, citing Villari, describes life in Florence as “a continuous scene of revelry and dissipation” and “argues that the regime encouraged pleasure-seeking to stop people asking awkward questions about the way they were governed.” In order to bring about their political enslavement, Lorenzo had to orchestrate their moral corruption. As a modern historian puts it, “The tyranny of the Medici had led not only to the political but also to the moral enslavement of the Florentines.” Ultimately, “it was because Lorenzo knew how to make them feel happy and prosperous and the masses remained loyal to him at the time of the conspiracy of the Pazzi.

During Lorenzo’s tenure several branches of the Medici Bank collapsed. Because of bad loans, he got into financial difficulties and resorted to misappropriating trust and state funds. Lorenzo died in 1492 at the longtime family villa of Careggi.

On Lorenzo’s deathbed, Savonarola is said to have visited him, despite them being in somewhat of a rivalry, some people believe that Lorenzo always deeply respected Frate Girolamo, the “little friar”…

Many strange signs and portents were claimed to have taken place at the moment of his death, such as the dome of the Florence Cathedral being struck by lightning, ghosts appearing, and the lions at Via Leone were fighting one another. Lorenzo was buried with his brother Giuliano in the Church of San Lorenzo in the red porphyry sarcophagus, designed by Michelangelo. The statues of the lesser Lorenzo and Giuliano were carved by Michelangelo to incorporate the essence of the two famous men.

The Fall of Constantinople.

The ‘Conquest of Istanbul’ was the capture of the Capital city of the Byzantine Empire by an invading Ottoman army in 1453. The attackers were commanded by the 21 year old sultan Mehmed II, who defeated an army commanded by Emperor Constantine XI, and took control of the Imperial Capital, ending a 53-day siege that began in April 1453. The sultan transferred his Capital there.

From a naval perspective, the Byzantines had about 26 ships, whereas the Ottomans had 31 galleys, 75 large row boats, and 20 horse transports. The Fifteenth-Century depiction of this battle, from France called ‘The Last Siege of Constantinople,’ nicely depicts the scene on that day as it’s described. The capture of the city (and two other Byzantine splinter territories soon thereafter) marked the end of the Roman Empire. A state which had lasted for nearly 1,500 years, dating back to 27 BC. The conquest of Constantinople also dealt a massive blow to the defense of mainland Europe, as the Muslim Ottoman armies thereafter were left unchecked to advance into Europe without an adversary to their rear.

It also was a watershed moment in military history, since in ancient times cities had used ramparts and city walls to protect themselves from invaders, and Constantinople’s substantial fortifications had been a model followed by cities throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe. The Ottomans ultimately prevailed due to the use of gun powder (which powered formidable canons).

Constantinople had been an Imperial Capital since its consecration

Dealu Monastery

A Fifteenth Century Eastern Orthodox carved stone and brick church, founded by Radu IV The Great.

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