Founder of the fortune was Giovanni de' Medici, called di Bicci. He came from the peasants of the valley of Mugello and entered first the Roman banking house of his uncle Vieri di Cambio (you can guess why 'Cambio' means Money Exchange in Italian language). In 1393 he founded his own bank or took over Vieri's bank and transferred in 1397 its headquarter to Florence. He formed connections to the Holy See in Rome. The Medici became the bankers of the popes and above all administrator of the church-money with percentage. The legendary fortune of this family is due to this unrivalled position. He took the occasion to hold public offices, was elected for the Senate and had been gonfaloniere di giustizia (sort of minister president). His son Cosimo was left his property undivided.
Highly gifted and ambitious Cosimo enjoyed with 25 of age the most respect, from which arose the envy of the old family of the Albizzi. After long quarrels in which Cosimo was banned, he returned in 1434 and from then on his ascent was unstoppable.
He was responsible for Florence's ascent as a rich commercial center and he
started the protection of artists. He constituted Florence state as a republic
and ruled the town without to have an official legitimation. But the people
followed him as they followed later his grandson Lorenzo.
Lorenzo's role as the magician who conjured up the talents that contributed to the intellectual and artistic image of Florence in the late Quattrocento can be assessed briefly. He responded, as a highly intelligent and carefully educated young man might, to quality, whether shown in intellectual speculation or in artistic endeavour. But as a patron of the arts his role was to encourage others to employ the city's artists rather than to commission works from them himself. He arranged for Giuliano da Sangallo to work for the King of Naples. It was his cousin Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici who obtained Primavera and The Birth of Venus from Botticelli, his business associates who paid Ghirlandaio for the fresco cycles in S. Trinita and S. Maria Novella. The latter cycle cost only a tenth of one of Lorenzo's own most cherished purchases, the antique Tazza Farnese. His preferred taste, backed by his own pocket, was for the more private forms of art represented by works of this sort; for small, precious objects: ancient vases, cups, cameos, jewels and bronze statuettes. He did commission Giuliano da Sangallo to remodel one of his favourite country retreats, the farm at Poggio a Caiano, and Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Filippino to decorate another, his villa at Spedaletto (near Arezzo: the frescoes have disappeared).
He was a leader indeed in that growing taste for country life which, together with the
jousts he sponsored, was part of a more general leadership of the Florentine patriciate
towards a style of life closer to that of the aristocratic north. Outside his
political role, in which he was painstaking and careful not to push too far
the licence granted - increasingly grudgingly on the part of many - to his
family to act independently, and outside his role as banker, which he neglected,
Lorenzo's interests suggest that inside the statesman and party manager was a
reflective scholar-prince longing to get out.
Yet he remained a steady and loving
centre of his family, and though more places might be laid at table for visiting
dignitaries and for artists and men of letters than in other Florentine households,
the palace in the Via Larga cannot be seen as in any sense the nucleus of a court.
He was absorbed by, and ambitious for, his family, just as his father and grandfather
had been, and he did nothing that contributed more to the perpetuation of his family
name than when he obtained in 1489 Pope Innocent VIII's promise of a cardinalcy for
his son Giovanni, the future Leo X.
Right Botticelli's portrait of Lorenzo's brother Giuliano who was murdered at the Pazzi conspiracy.