An affectionate portrayal of the Renaissance statesman with a penchant for art and poetry.
New York Times contributor Unger (The Watercolors of Winslow Homer, 2001) lays out Lorenzo de’ Medici’s achievements in this well-balanced tome. Lorenzo’s birth in 1449 created the potential for a dynasty. His grandfather Cosimo ruled over Florence, his father Piero was Cosimo’s eldest son and Lorenzo was the first male Medici born since the family seized power in 1434. Unger describes the young Lorenzo as overawed by his grandfather’s reputation and worshipful of his grandmother, Contessina de’ Bardi. After Cosimo’s death in 1464, Piero put great responsibility on 15-year-old Lorenzo’s shoulders; indeed, the boy was referred to as “the hope of the city” by many Medici partisans. Unger draws on letters sent to and from the Medici family to enrich his tale and also includes extracts from Lorenzo’s poetry, the exegeses of which are among the book’s most illuminating passages. Lorenzo shared his grandparents’ and parents’ affinity for all the arts. He used his associations with such Renaissance figures as Botticelli and Michelangelo to impress European leaders, and these artists in turn received the Medici family’s generous patronage. Lorenzo’s fondness for poetry, art and literature should not be underestimated, asserts the author, a stance that differs from recent scholars who have contended that his influence over Florentine artists may not have been so great as is often assumed. Many of these arguments, writes Unger, such as whether Lorenzo commissioned Botticelli’s Primavera, are mere quibbles when set against the creative atmosphere that the great statesman fostered. Further extracts from poetry written toward the end of Lorenzo’s life, which detail his fragile state of mind, bring the book to a neat conclusion.
A welcome addition to the body of Medici literature.