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Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany : biography

June 12, 1519 - April 21, 1574

Cosimo I de' Medici (12 June 1519 – 21 April 1574) was the second Duke of Florence from 1537 until 1569, when he became the first Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Life

Rise to power

Cosimo was born in Florence, on June 12, 1519, the son of the famous condottiere Giovanni dalle Bande Nere from Forlì and Maria Salviati. Cosimo came to power at 17, when the 26 year old Duke, Alessandro de' Medici, was assassinated in 1537, as Alessandro's only male child was illegitimate. Cosimo was from a different branch of the family, and so far had lived in Mugello, and was almost unknown in Florence: however, many of the influential men in the city favored him, several of them hoping to rule through him and thereby enrich themselves at the state's expense. However, as Benedetto Varchi famously put it "The innkeeper's reckoning was different from the glutton's." "Ma un conto facea il ghiotto, e un altro il taverniere", B. Varchi, Storia Fiorentina. Cosimo proved strong-willed, astute and ambitious, and soon rejected the clause he had signed, which entrusted much of the power to a council of Forty-Eight.

When the Florentine exiles heard of the death of Alessandro, they marshalled their forces with support from France and from disgruntled neighbors of Florence. During this time, Cosimo had an illegitimate daughter, Bia (1537 – 1542), who was portrayed shortly before her premature death in a marvelous painting by Bronzino, now at the Uffizi Gallery by Bronzino.

Toward the end of July 1537, the exiles marched into Tuscany under the leadership of Bernardo Salviati and Piero Strozzi. When Cosimo heard of their approach, he sent his best troops under Alessandro Vitelli to engage the enemy, which they did at Montemurlo, a fortress that belonged to the Nerli. After defeating the exiles' army, Vitelli stormed the fortress, where Strozzi and a few of his companions had retreated to safety. It fell after only a few hours, and Cosimo celebrated his first victory. The prominent prisoners were subsequently beheaded on the Piazza or in the Bargello. Filippo Strozzi's body was found with a bloody sword next to it and a note quoting Virgil, but many believe that his suicide was faked.

Rule of Tuscany

In June 1537 Cosimo was recognized as head of the Florentine state by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, in exchange for help against France in the course of the Italian Wars. With this move he firmly restored the power of the Medici, who thereafter ruled Florence until the death of the last of the Medici, Gian Gastone de' Medici, in 1737. The help granted to Charles V allowed him to free Tuscany from the Imperial garrisons, and to increase as much as possible its independence from the overwhelming Spanish influence in Italy.

Cosimo next turned on Siena. With the support of the Emperor, he defeated the Sienese at the Battle of Marciano (1554), and laid siege to Siena. Despite the inhabitants' desperate resistance, on April 17, 1555, after a 15-month siege, the city fell, its population diminished from forty thousand to eight thousand. In 1559 Montalcino, the last redoubt of Sienese independence, was annexed to Cosimo's territories. In 1569, Pope Pius V elevated him to the rank of Grand Duke of Tuscany.

In the last 10 years of his reign, struck by the death of two of his sons by malaria, Cosimo gave up the active rule to his son and successor Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. He retreated to live in his villa, Villa di Castello, outside Florence.

Patronage of the arts

Cosimo is perhaps best known today for the creation of the Uffizi ("offices"). Originally intended as a means of consolidating his administrative control of the various committees, agencies, and guilds established in Florence's Republican past, it now houses one of the world's most important collections of art, much of it commissioned and/or owned by various Medici. He also finished the Pitti Palace as a home for the Medici and created the magnificent Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti. As his more prominent ancestors had been, he was also an important patron of the arts, supporting, among others, Vasari, Cellini, Pontormo, Bronzino, the architect Lanci, and the historians Scipione Ammirato and Benedetto Varchi.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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