Cosimo I de’ Medici (Florence, June 12, 1519 – April 21, 1574) was Duke of Florence and later, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany. He ruled from 1537 to 1574.
Son of the mercenary captain Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and of Maria Salviati, Cosimo came to power in 1537 at the young age of seventeen.
The biography of Cosimo
This came after the Duke of Florence Alessandro de’ Medici was assassinated upon the orders of his cousin Lorenzino de’ Medici. However, since Lorenzino was unable to find a replacement for Alessandro, he was forced to flee from Florence.
Cosimo came to Florence from Mugello, a rural area, and succeeded in being appointed Duke despite belonging to a different branch of the family. In fact, with the death of Alessandro de’ Medici, the main branch of the family, that of Cosimo the Elder, was branching out. Cosimo was able to take power only because his mother Maria Salviati was the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent: in this way, there was a direct relationship with the old branch of the family.
Given his young age and modest demeanor, many influential, contemporary Florentines hoped to have something to do with a weak, young, impressionable Cosimo.
In 1539 Cosimo married Eleonora di Toledo, daughter of the Spanish viceroy of Naples and of nobler birth than Cosimo. Thanks to this marriage, Cosimo came into possession of his wife’s enormous wealth and was guaranteed her father’s political friendship. Together they had eleven children, three of which died at birth. Moreover, Eleonora died of malaria.
Immediately after the assassination of the Duke of Florence Alessandro de’ Medici in 1537, Cosimo took absolute power.
He dismissed the most important Florentine families from their charge because he did not trust in their abilities and instead replaced them with officials of humble origins. He divided his territory legally and administratively between the “Old State” (Florence and its territories) and the “New State” (Siena, conquered after the victory of the Florentine/Spanish army over the Siena/French army in the Battle of Marciano).
He renewed the administration of justice by issuing a new criminal code, creating an efficient judicial system and police force. He restored balance to the power of the Medici so that from that time on the Medici ruled Florence and Tuscany until the dynasty ended in 1737.
He commissioned the construction of roads, drainage works, and ports, endowed many Tuscan cities with forts, strengthened the army, and promoted economic activity.
Cosimo was able to exploit the political role of art, also promoting a number of sites that changed, for the better, the face of Florence.
Achievements and interests
Among his various achievements is the creation of the Galleria degli Uffizi, originally intended for the administrative offices of the State and now one of the most important and visited museums in the world. He also expanded the majestic building of the Pitti Palace, which became the official residence of the Grand Dukes. He completed the Boboli Gardens, the grounds of his residence; he connected his new residence in Palazzo Vecchio with the Vasari Corridor, made by Giorgio Vasari and mentioned by Dan Brown in his Inferno as “the quintessential secret passageway”.
His court was coveted by artists of great value, including Gorgio Vasari, Agnolo Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini.
Cosimo founded the Academy and the Society of Art and Design in 1563. The latter was a kind of corporation that had to adhere to all artists working in Tuscany while the Academy, created only by the most eminent cultural personalities of Cosimo’s court, had the aim of protecting and supervising the whole artistic production of the Medici principality.
Cosimo was passionate of the natural sciences and archeology: in fact he undertook extensive research of Etruscan artifacts in Chiusi, Arezzo, and other cities, bringing to light many objects and statues. Further, in 1549, to astonish his subjects he exhibited a sperm whale found at Livorno directly in Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria.
In the last ten years of his reign he charged the affairs of the State to his son Francesco and retired to the Villa di Castello, near Florence. His last years were marked by disturbances due to fighting with his sons (especially Francesco, who had a different vision of the Prince and Court’s role) and his new wife, Camilla Martelli, with whom he did not get along.
He died of a heart attack in 1574 aged fifty-five.
Picture by wikipedia.org