Capponi (An Unlikely Prince: The Life and Times of Machiavelli, 2010, etc.), a descendant of one of Florence’s most prominent families, has the inside track on the beginnings of the Medici rule and their patronage of the great rebirth of art and architecture.
The author explains the politics of Italy, with its papal states, succession of popes, city-state squabbles, and different mercenaries. A good background in Italy’s history and geography is necessary for comprehension, but there is considerable difficulty keeping track of rulers, their sons, and those who usurp them—as well as deciphering their allegiances. Military leaders are just as confusing, as they frequently changed their ties with the wind (and purse), and Capponi alternates referring to characters by their first names, last names, or titles. In the early 15th century, there was considerable conflict among Milan, Venice, and Florence. Each city in Northern Italy was affected, either by promises of support, marriages, or threats of side wars with or against Genoa, Lucca, Pisa, and any other city along the supply routes. The author thoroughly enlightens readers regarding the inner workings of the armies and of Florence’s politics. The defeat of the papal army and the Duke of Milan at the Battle of Anghiari gave the area time to rebuild. Then came the rise of the Medici, who financed the transformation of art and helped begin the Renaissance. The book lacks as art history—there are only a few mentions of artists and short chapter-heading pieces about da Vinci’s lost painting of the Battle of Anghiari—but as military history, it shines.
There is so much information—much of it useful but some superfluous—that this could easily be used as a textbook. Tracking the characters, their treachery, and the many battles will tax many general readers.