History of The Medici Family for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you’re soaring through the sky over a beautiful medieval city of red terra cotta tiles that stretch for miles in both directions. In the center of the city is a huge cathedral with spires touching the sky. A soaring bell tower stands at one side and a gigantic dome at the other. As you fly around the dome and down through a window you stare in awe at a beautiful painting on the inside of the dome and many works of art and sculpture throughout the building. This is the city of Florence, Italy during the Renaissance. Join us as we learn about the people who ruled Florence during the 15th century, the powerful Family of Medici.

In the bustling streets of Florence, Italy, during the early 1400s, a young boy named Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici was about to change history. Giovanni was not born into a family of great wealth or royal blood. His father, Averardo de’ Medici, was a merchant, and his mother, Jacopa Spini, was a middle-class woman. They lived in a small house, but it was filled with love and laughter.

Giovanni was a curious child, always eager to learn about the world around him. He often wandered the markets of Florence, listening to traders and merchants as they haggled over goods. From silks and spices to artworks and armor, Florence was a city thriving with trade, thanks to its location in the heart of Italy.

When he was just a teenager, Giovanni’s father took him on a business trip to Rome. It was there that Giovanni’s saw his first bank. When people needed to move money to a far away place, they could give their money to the bank who would give them a letter with a number showing the amount. Then they could travel to the faraway place and use the letter to get their money. This was much safer than trying to move large amounts of money  by wagon or on their horse – especially since the roads at that time could be very dangerous. Thieves were known to stop people and take their money. Banks could also be used to keep your money safe and to buy things in faraway places. This not only made trading easier but also safer. Giovanni saw all of this going on and was fascinating.

Returning to Florence, Giovanni decided to start his own bank. With a small amount of money saved up and a loan from a family friend, Giovanni set up a tiny banking in the local market. It was just a simple table in the market where people would come to him to trust him with their money. He was friendly and wise, offering to keep people’s money safe and help them transfer money to different cities without risk.

Banks and banking seem like a simple ideas now, but it was very new at the time and Giovanni wanted to be the one who had the biggest, most trusted, and wealthy bank.

Giovanni’s reputation grew. People trusted him because he was fair and kind. His bank began to grow. He also made money on trade. Trade is when you buy items and then sell them for more. He did this all over Europe along with helping people move and save their money. 

But beyond banking, Giovanni wanted to do more than just make money; he wanted to help Florence, the city he loved. He started lending money to artists so they could buy materials to create beautiful paintings, sculptures, and other crafts. This was the time of the Renaissance when artists were trying new styles and painting more realistically than before. 

The Medici Bank, as it was now known, became the largest bank in Europe!  Giovanni had branches of his bank in many major cities, including Rome, Venice, and even distant London. His success allowed him to support not just his family but also the city’s artists, architects, and thinkers. Florence blossomed into a center of the Renaissance, a golden age of art and science in part thanks to the money spent by Giovanni.

One of Giovanni’s proudest moments was praying for the construction of the famous dome of the Florence Cathedral. He hired Filippo Brunelleschi, a genius architect who proposed a daring design. Many were skeptical that such a grand dome could be built, but Giovanni believed in Brunelleschi’s vision. The completion of the dome was a marvel and remains one of the architectural wonders of the world.

Giovanni also believed in giving back to his community. He supported the construction of hospitals, schools, and libraries. Thanks to him, many young Florentines received education and health care, which were rare in those times for anyone but the rich.

As Giovanni grew older, he trained his sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo, to take over the bank. He taught them everything he knew, not just about banking, but also about being wise leaders and generous supporters of art and culture. Giovanni knew that wealth was not just about gold and silver; it was about making the city better for everyone.

Cosimo, Giovanni’s oldest son, was a quick learner, but he loved art more than banking like his father. He loved to stroll through the workshops of sculptors and painters, watching them turn blank canvases and rough stones into breathtaking art.

As Cosimo grew into a teenager, Florence was blossoming into the center of the Renaissance. It was during these years that Cosimo developed a vision for his city. He saw Florence not just as a center of commerce but as a shining light of culture and learning.

When Cosimo took over the Medici Bank from his father, he was ready to use his wealth to transform Florence. He believed that beauty and knowledge were as valuable as gold and silver. He started investing in art and buildings even more than his father. He became a “patron” of the arts, which means he paid to have them created.

Cosimo’s love for architecture led him to pay for the construction of the San Marco monastery in Florence. He invited architects to design a building that would reflect the elegance and spiritual depth of the city. The finished building was a peaceful place that became a home for scholars and artists. 

He also established the Platonic Academy, a school where philosophers gathered to discuss ideas. With Cosimo as the patron, this academy became a center for learning in Europe, attracting scholars from all over the continent. It was here that the works of Plato and other ancient philosophers were studied and preserved.

But life in Florence wasn’t easy for Cosimo. Even though he gave a lot to the city, he also used his money to control some of the leaders. Many people believed he and his family had too much power over Florence and their use of their wealth to run the city was unfair. One of the competing families, the Albizzi, found enough people to go against them that Cosimo had to leave the city for a time. He was devastated to leave the city he loved. The Albizzi didn’t run Florence as well and eventually the people asked Cosimo to come back. 

Back in Florence, Cosimo paid for the construction of public libraries, making knowledge accessible to more than just the elite. He also paid for public projects like aqueducts, which carried clean water through the city. These projects improved daily life in Florence, making it one of the most advanced cities of its time.

Like his father, Cosimo taught his children the value of art, culture, and community. When Cosimo passed away, Pietro took over the Medici Bank and leadership of Florence. We’re not going to spend as much time learning about Pietro but he did carry on his family’s legacy of running the bank and keeping the finances in order. Cosimo’s rule had been very expensive from all of his spending on art and architecture and Pietro was able to focus on the banking again and increase the family’s wealth.

His son, Lorenzo, grew up surrounded by scholars, artists, and poets. From a very young age, he was taught not only about banking and politics but also the value of art and knowledge. Lorenzo had a powerful personality and was very intelligent like his father and grandfather, with a natural ability to lead and inspire those around him. 

In 1469, he was barely 20 years-old when his father passed away and he was left in charge of the family bank. He paid for great art like his grandfathers, Cosimo and Giovanni, but with even greater enthusiasm. He surrounded himself with poets and scholars, too, who helped him turn Florence into the intellectual and artistic capitol of Europe.

One of the most famous artists and inventors of the Renaissance was Leonardo da Vinci. Lorenzo was a patron to Leonardo and Michelangelo, two of the most famous artists in history. He became known as “Lorenzo the Magnificent” for all of his different qualities.

He was also a very skilled politician. This means he knew how to work with leaders in the government. Often the way he worked with leaders was unfair, because he used his money to pay for who was in power and how they voted. He was like a king of Florence, but he did it in a secret way by using his money to make things go his way.

At the time, many of the different cities in what is now Italy competed for power. Cities such as Rome, Milan, Venice, Naples and Genoa. Because all of these cities were competing for power, Lorenzo’s reign as leader of Florence was not without its challenges. In 1478, someone tried to assassinate him during church in the Duomo of Florence. Lorenzo survived, but the attack left scars that would affect his leadership and the safety of his family.

As Lorenzo grew older, running Florence became harder and harder. The bank wasn’t as powerful as when his father was in charge and his building projects and art became too expensive for their family to pay for. He died in 1492, yet, the world has Lorenzo and his father and grandfather to thank for much of the beautiful artwork and buildings you can still visit in Florence today.

The Medici Family, through its generations, showed both the good and ill that come with great power. They were patrons of the arts and education, and helped keep Florence stable. However, their leadership also included times of extreme control, corruption, and abuses of power. Despite this, the Medicis left a significant mark on history, transforming Florence into a center of the Renaissance that still shines brightly today.

The story of the Medici family, from Giovanni to Cosimo to Lorenzo, teaches us that with great power and wealth comes the responsibility to foster culture, knowledge, and beauty. Their legacy reminds us that we all have the capacity to contribute to a better society. Their story inspires us to think of how we, too, can make our own mark in the world, creating something magnificent that could last generations.