6. Renaissance Lords

The Medici, Visconti, and Sforza Dynasties


Signori” is the Italian word for the powerful lords who came to rule most of the city-states of the Italian Renaissance



Benozzo Gozzoli’s Journey of the Magi, detail

The artist included many portraits of the Medici and other prominent personages in this biblical scene.

For instance, here is a close-up of Cosimo the Elder, mounted on a mule (Cosimo is keeping a low profile, as usual):

Cosimo the Elder

Near Cosimo is a portrait of his son Piero (“the Gouty’)

Piero de Medici


Piero’s sons – Cosimo’s grandson’s – Lorenzo (“the Magnificent”) and Giuliano de’ Medici:


Lorenzo de’ Medici

The artist also included this self-portrait in the fresco:

Benozzo Gozzoli himself

and the Medici’s ally, the young Giangaleazzo Maria Sforza, future Duke of Milan:



This is Gozzoli’s entire fresco on the east wall of the chapel in the Medici Palace:


Despite their noble appearance in these paintings, the Medici had made their fortune in banking.



The image of the Three Kings (or Three Magi ) was a favorite of the wealthy Medici.


Here is another image that Cosimo had painted for his room in the Convent of San Marco:

Like the  legendary Three Kings who brought precious gifts to the Christ child, the Medici portrayed themselves as royalty offering their riches to the Church.

Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici was pleased when the king of France, Louis XI granted  the fleur-de-lis for the Medici coat of arms.

Medici balls Donatello

Medici Coat of Arms, Circle of Donatello

Neither were the Sforzas of noble descent. Francesco Sforza, lord of Milan, was the son of a condottiero, a mercenary soldier. Sforza was himself employed as a condottiero by the duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti



Pisanello, Medal of Filippo Maria Visconti

He was such a valuable soldier that Sforza married  the boss’s daughter. Here are portraits of Francesco Sforza and his wife Bianca Maria Visconti painted by Bonifacio Bembo:


The soldier of fortune and the banker struck up a friendship that lasted a lifetime.

Cosimo de’ Medici died in 1464; this medal was struck the year later:


This portrait by Sandro Botticelli in the Uffizi Gallery was painted shortly after 1470 and portrays a young man holding up that medal,  proudly declaring his affiliation with the Medici clan.




Though Cosimo de’ Medici was never the official signore or “lord” of Florence, he kept firm control over the government of the city.



In his private manners and dress he tended to be modest and did not act like a lord, but Cosimo helped finance high-profile architectural projects, both public and private, such as the renovation of the Basilica of San Lorenzo


the Dominican Convent of San Marco


and the Medici Palace

Medici Palace, exterior

Medici Palace, interior courtyard

Donatello was a favorite artist of Cosimo’s and a personal friend. These two statues once stood in the courtyard of the Medici Palace:


Donatello Judith and Holofernes


Donatello, David

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