Cosimo de’ Medici was one of the most famous personalities of Renaissance Florence
and a great patron of the arts, especially architecture. He was also one the most powerful
bankers in Florence, and eventually in all of Europe, thanks in part to his management of the
Papacy’s finances. Cosimo’s influence in the art and the economic world made him very
politically powerful, and he was posthumously given the title pater patriae, Latin for “father of his country.”1 His success was the beginning of the reign of the Medici family in Florence that lasted until well into the 17th century.
This paper will discuss some of Cosimo de’ Medici’s most well-known commissions and
how they were created to display the wealth and power of Cosimo and the Medici family. The
artworks also reveal Cosimo’s personality, which he carefully crafted in order to appeal to the
people. The paper will also investigate how Cosimo’s connections and businesses contributed to
his rise to power. Cosimo’s personality helped him gain popularity with the citizens of Florence.
He portrayed himself as a patriot, and emphasized qualities that Florentine citizens valued, such
as strength, honor, and humility. Though he spent an enormous amount of money on the art he
commissioned, he represented himself as a humble and generous Christian. A lot of his
commissions involved renovating churches, further emphasizing his piety and generosity.
Cosimo de’ Medici was born in 1389, into a wealthy banking family. His father,
Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, was already a successful businessman. In 1420 Giovanni di Bicci
retired and handed over his various business and art ventures, including the bank, to Cosimo and his younger brother, Lorenzo.2 Cosimo and Lorenzo worked closely together, both in business
and in commissioning artwork, until Lorenzo’s death in 1440. From 1440 until his death in 1464, Cosimo mainly worked with his eldest son, Piero.3
Cosimo de’ Medici was a very successful businessman. Though he inherited a great deal
from his father, Giovanni di Bicci, he expanded on his work and more than doubled the fortune that he inherited. In fact, at the time of his death he was the wealthiest man in Europe.4 Cosimo
gave a large part of his wealth to churches and other charitable institutions, and what he did not
give away he used as a weapon to gain power, especially outside of Florence. For instance,
Cosimo gave extensive loans to the Venetian Republic to help them fight off the French and the Duke of Milan.5 Cosimo’s financial assistance allowed the Venetians to successfully ward off
the attack, which kept Florence safe from invasion. Conversely, when Venice and Naples united
against Florence, Cosimo crippled their attacks by demanding that they pay their debts to the Medici bank, leaving them without any resources to continue the war.6
Cosimo had many personal connections that gave him influence in the political world.
He attended meetings of humanists and had learned conversation with such men as Bruni,
Poggio, and Marsuppini, leading humanists in Florence. All of these men later became chancellors of the Republic, giving Cosimo considerable political influence through his friends.7
Cosimo used this and his wealth to influence policy, especially foreign policy. For example, he
used his connections and economic power to arrange the Council of Florence in 1439, a meeting
between the authorities of the Eastern and Western church. Cosimo housed all of the members