araldica di firenze: the medici

pope leo xi medici2

The Medici
Dates to:
as early as 1331
Meaningful shapes, colors and symbols:
a gold background with five red balls
and one blue with gold fleur de lis.
Where to find it: Nearly everywhere you look in Florence.
The photo above was taken in Piazza del Duomo

Volumes have been written, and I'm sure more will follow, on the Medici and their impact on Florence, Italy, Europe (the world), art, science, religion, and learning in general. The family were patrons of the arts. It was under their leadership that Florence became the birthplace of the Renaissance.  They were also patrons of learning, and their efforts saved many texts from ruin after the fall of Constantinople.

By profession they were bankers. The Medici bank gave them a vast fortune and created trusted network of contacts across Europe Their bank is what many consider the first international bank.  As their wealth grew, so did their power. They were citizen-politicians and later Dukes, at first rising to their position by popular consent and later on imposing their rule with papal backing. 

The family did face hardships at times - they were banished from Florence and their Palazzo sacked after Piero the Unfortunate failed to prevent Charles VIII from occupying the city - but they ultimately wielded king-like power over Tuscany as Grand Dukes.

It's nearly impossible to walk through Florence today without passing at least one building with a Medici connection, and should you visit any of the city's art galleries you'll see many of the works they commissioned.  Their patronage is perhaps their lasting mark on the city and the world as a whole. So, before you visit the city be sure to read about the family, because in many ways their story is also the story of Florence.