- Giovanni di Cosimo de' Medici
Florence, 1421 – Florence, 1463
Florence. Also: Ferrara, Milan, Rome
- Biographical information:
More robust in health, Giovanni was seen by his father Cosimo il Vecchio as a more probable successor in political and business affairs than his eldest son, Piero known as il Gottoso. However, these expectations were belied by a propensity to indulgence in the pleasures of life, intellectual diversions and a certain indolence.
At a tender age, Giovanni enrolled in the Guild of Bankers (1426) and the Wool Guild (1435). In 1438 he carried out his apprenticeship in the Ferrara branch of the Medici bank. He received a humanistic education that also brought him close to the world of music. In 1447 he was employed at the Studio fiorentino. In 1454 he was elected Prior and in the following year was part of the Florentine delegation sent to Rome to pay homage to the new Pope Callistus III. In the same year 1455 he became the director general of the family bank; however, here he failed to come up to the expectations of his father, who from 1463 brought in Francesco Sassetti to work alongside him. A prominent figure in the Medici faction, in the 1450s Giovanni was on several occasions spokesman for his faction, speaking at the assemblies of the Florentine Republic.
He married Ginevra degli Alessandri, by whom he had a son Cosimino, who died in 1459 while still a child.
Like his brother Piero, Giovanni was an impassioned collector of antiquities. He amassed an outstanding collection of coins, sculptures and manuscripts and commissioned copies of antique codices. In view of Giovanni’s interest in classical art, in a letter dated 1443 Alberto Averardi informed him of the state of decay of the ancient monuments in Rome.
This interest led Giovanni to commission works of art in which the antique Roman style was conciliated with modern Renaissance taste, with accents of exquisite refinement and lofty erudition. It was in the same spirit that, in the 1450s, he commissioned Michelozzo to construct the Villa of Fiesole and to renovate the nearby church of San Gerolamo with adjacent cloister. The commissioner’s idea was that the villa, located in a panoramic position on the hillside overlooking Florence, should resemble the description of the ancient suburban villas contained in the pages of Pliny the Younger. This project was also certainly the result of Giovanni’s frequentation of Leon Battista Alberti, who in a letter refers to him as "dearest friend".
Ancient and modern also come together in the sculptural works commissioned by Giovanni, and situated in his apartment in Palazzo Medici: his own portrait bust sculpted by Mino da Fiesole (Florence, Bargello National Museum) and the reliefs of 12 Heads of Caesars executed by Desiderio da Settignano, inspired by antique medals. Giovanni also commissioned sculptural works from Donatello (recorded in documents of 1454-1455) and paintings from Domenico Veneziano and Pesellino. He collected Flemish tapestries and paintings, operating through the agents of the Bruges branch of the Medici bank.
A great music lover, with the assistance of his collaborators he also amassed an exceptional collection of musical instruments and scores originating from various parts of the world: in 1445 Francesco Sassetti provided him with two lutes: in 1448 another lute was the subject of purchase negotiations on his behalf carried out by Piero Ricci; in 1450 Squarcialupi informed him from Naples that he had not managed to acquire an organ from the cardinal of Santa Maria Nuova; in 1460 Ambrogio Traversari sent him a collection of songs of various kinds from Venice. He set up his collection in a suite of rooms specifically devoted to music in his villa in Fiesole. His friends effectively included many musicians, among them Guglielmo di Dufy, a cantor from Canterbury. He himself also composed songs and even engaged in writing poetry. The group of intellectuals that gravitated around Giovanni also included Leonardo Dati, Francesco d’Altobianco Alberti, Ludovico Menfredi and Feo Belcari, all of whom, together with Piero Ricci, participated in the poetry competition, the Certame Coronario. Also among his friends was Domenico di Giovanni known as il Burchiello, a leading exponent of Florentine light verse who, despite the fact that he had written pungent invectives against the Medici, was in the habit of accompanying Giovanni during his summer sojourns at the spa close to Siena.
In the sphere of his diplomatic relations with other Italian princes, Giovanni offered his services as artistic consultant, introducing illustrious artists beyond the confines of Florence. In 1449 Sigismondo Malatesta contacted the Medici for recommendations of artists who might provide works for the new cathedral church of Rimini, the Tempio Malatestiano. It may even have been Giovanni himself who suggested Piero della Francesca and Filippo Lippi. In 1456 Giovanni commissioned a triptych from Filippo Lippi as a gift for Alfonso of Aragon, King of Naples, duly delivered two years later. Of this work, which was subsequently dismembered although we do not know when, the two surviving panels portray Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Michael the Archangel (Cleveland, Museum of Art); in the centre there was an Adoration of the Child.
Giovanni died prematurely in 1463, just one year before his father. It was said that the cause of death was an over-indulgence in the pleasures of life and in amours. Several years later his body, together with that of his brother Piero, was placed in the tomb executed by Andrea Verrocchio in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo.
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