the sixteenth century - art and history of florence

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  10. The Sixteenth Century  

Michelangelo's DavidLorenzo the Magnificent knew how to impose his personal power without overthrowing the republican institutions. He likewise also managed to establish a certain equilibrium between the various Italian states, avoiding intervention by the great foreign powers. But upon his death (1492) it took only a few years for the son who succeeded him, Pietro the Unlucky, to demolish the wonderful structure of Medici power. The cowardly policy of Pietro regarding the invader Charles VIII constrained the city to eliminate him and reestablish in full the republican regime. But the people were divided between those who sided with the Medici, the great families who wanted to restore an oligarchic government, and the bulk of citizens, inflamed by the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar from San Marco, one of the highest expressions of the religious tradition in the city. Savonarola's followers reformed the government, imposing a new regime in which an important role was given to a "Gran Consiglio" which reunited the members of the principal families. But it was not long before the Medicis and their supporters made a comeback, thanks to the fact that Savonarola had been judged a heretic and burned at the stake in the Piazza della Signoria on May 23, 1498 on the order of Pope Alexander VI against whom the friar's violent sermons were directed. Followed a brief period in which the patrician republic was strenghtened with the elections of Pier Soderini as Gonfalonier for life. This was time when Michelangelo created his famous statue of David to be located in front of the Palazzo della Signoria as "a guardian to the florentine freedom". Afterwords the city once more found itself under Medici rule, at the behest of the pope, allied with the king of Aragon whose word was law in Italy after the departure of the king of France. Cosimo I statueThe elevation to the papal throne, first of Giovanni de' Medici (Leo X) (1512), and then of Giulio (Clement VII) seemed to reinforce the Medici signoria even more. But when news of the sack of Rome (1527) arrived, the people rebelled and once more ousted the Medici and proclaimed their freedom. This was the last desperate attempt to reinstate the republican government. On August 12, 1530, after an eleven-month siege, the armies of the emperor and the pope together entered Florence and the following year, with imperial concession, Alexander de' Medici was declared "head of the government and of the state". The new lord, whom a subsequent resolution was to call "Duke of the Florentine Republic", installed a tyranny, with new institutions all under his control, and began a foreign policy of alliances with the most important reigning families in Europe, marrying a natural daughter of Emperor Charles V and giving his stepsister Caterina as wife to the second son of Francis I.
Uffizi Gallery The adversaries of the Medici, headed by Filippo Strozzi, who had been forced into exile, tried in vain to overturn Duke Alessandro's government. They were unsuccessful even when Lorenzino (or Lorenzaccio) de' Medici assassinated Alessandro in 1537. At that time the best they could do was call in as successor Cosimo il Giovane, son of Giovanni delle Bande Nere, a younger branch of the family, since the line of Cosimo the Elder had been extinguished. Barely seventeen, the new duke however managed to command respect and gradually installed an autocratic regime. He also succeeded in crushing the adverse factions and reinforcing the state, bringing Siena under Florentine rule (1555). The state Cosimo now ruled over was regional, something republican Florence had never managed to achieve. He obtained a sovereign title from the pope and on March 5, 1570 was crowned grand duke of Tuscany by Pius V.
Cosimo I died in 1574 and left the government in the hands of his son Francesco who reigned till 1587 whe he was succedeed by his brother Ferdinando I (1587-1609).


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