?, 1511/2 - Florence, 1537
- Duke of Florence
Florence, Rome, Bologna, Urbino and elsewhere
- Biographical information:
No certain data have come down to us regarding the birth of Alessandro, which took place between 1511 and 1512. This uncertainty is possibly due to the fact that Alessandro was the illegitimate son of Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, later Pope Clement VII, born of a liaison with a Roman peasant woman or a Slav slave. Effectively Alessandro’s first public appearance took place when he was already seven years old, when he was presented at the papal court as the natural son of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and a servant working for the Medici household.
He was educated in Florence, always protected by a particular predilection on the part of Cardinal Giulio. In 1522, the latter obtained from the Emperor Charles V the title of Duke of Civita di Penna (in Abruzzo) to confer upon his charge.
When Giulio became Pope Clement VII in 1523, the new Medici pope sent to Florence at a very tender age Ippolito (1524) and Alessandro (1525) as representatives of the family, albeit ostensibly entrusted to the tutelage of Cardinal Passerini who effectively wielded control over the government of the city. Ippolito and Alessandro lived together in uneasy strife in the palazzo of Via Larga, in an atmosphere fraught with tension and rivalry. Alessandro, with his violent and vindictive temperament, saw Ippolito as a potential obstacle to his conquest of power.
Banished from Florence with the rest of his family on the occasion of the Sack of Rome (1527), Alessandro then returned after the definitive defeat of the Republican government by the papal and imperial troops (1530). On 5 July 1531 Alessandro made his triumphal entry into the city and took full possession of Palazzo Medici in Via Larga. The following day, in the Salone dei Duecento in Palazzo della Signoria, Alessandro gave a public reading of the imperial decree of 28 October 1530 in which Charles V set him at the head of the Florentine Republic, thus granting him an absolute and dynastic power. Having definitively suppressed the Republican institutions, such as those of the Gonfaloniere and the Signoria, on 1 May 1532 Alessandro set up a new constitution which appointed him as the first Duke of Florence.
Alessandro never displayed any particular interest in art and culture, and his commissions were made with strictly political ends, designed to strengthen the image of his own absolutism. One of the Duke’s first gestures was to set up various exemplars of his coat of arms in Palazzo della Signoria. In 1534 he commissioned from Baccio d’Agnolo another carved and gilded crest, which was later painted by Giorgio Vasari, to set up in the large hall of the Palazzo della Mercatanzia. In addition to this, at the orders of the Duke, Baccio Bandinelli with the collaboration of Vincenzo de’ Rossi created the two marble ‘terms’, one male and one female, set at the sides of the main entrance door of Palazzo della Signoria, joined by a chain which made it possible to close off access to the people of Florence.
In 1534, Alessandro de’ Medici asked Antonio da Sangallo the Younger to design a fortress joined to the city walls "to keep Florence at bay" and to offer a safe refuge in case of revolt: this was the origin of the Fortress of San Giovanni Battista, later known as the Fortezza da Basso.
On his death in the same year of 1534, Clement VII bequeathed to Alessandro the Villa di Careggi, where Jacopo Pontormo and several assistants decorated a loggia with paintings that were later lost (1536).
Again in 1534, at the request of the Duke, Ottaviano de’ Medici commissioned from Giorgio Vasari the portrait of Lorenzo il Magnifico and that of Duke Alessandro. Both of these (now in the Uffizi) were to be comprised within a series of portraits of illustrious figures of the House of Medici destined to the family palazzo in Via Larga.
In 1535 Alessandro launched the coining of ducats stamped with his effigy to a design by Benvenuto Cellini.
On 9 June 1536 Alessandro married Margaret of Habsburg, the illegitimate daughter of Charles V, who was just thirteen years old at the time. The betrothal had been ratified through the treaty of Barcelona, drawn up on 29 June 1529 between Clement VII and Charles V. About one month before the celebration of the nuptials, the emperor arrived in Florence where he was greeted with magnificent triumphal apparatus, and sojourned in Palazzo Medici as Alessandro’s guest.
Alessandro inaugurated his rule with a despotic and intransigent government, bending the people beneath the yoke of constant taxation and oppression, intimidating them with confiscations, bans and death sentences. Alessandro, himself, moreover indulged in a frantic and dissolute lifestyle that was entirely extraneous to the tenets of the family, to the extent that the situation became intolerable even for those families that were closest to the Medici.
On the feast of the Epiphany 1537, Lorenzino, belonging to the younger branch of the Medici family, drew Alessandro into a trap and stabbed him to death in the "old house" of the family in Via Larga, just a few steps from Palazzo Medici. It would appear that the true instigator of the murder may have been Cosimo, son of Giovanni delle Bande Nere, who then took over from Alessandro on the ducal throne.
On the Duke’s death, his wife Margaret took refuge in the Fortezza da Basso, bringing all her precious possessions with her, while Lorenzino (known thereafter as "Lorenzaccio", or bad Lorenzo) fled to Bologna. Alessandro’s corpse, discovered the day after, was laid in the sarcophagus of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino in the New Sacristy.
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