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Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de' Medici.


The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de' Medici

Miles J. Unger

JR Books 513pp 20 [pound sterling]

ISBN 978 190 621771 6


Biographies of Lorenzo de' Medici have been appearing in English since William Roscoe's highly successful publication of 1793-94. This is hardly surprising. Lorenzo was a remarkable figure as a dynast, a political manager, an Italian and international statesman, a patron of the arts, a poet and an impresario. His character and career were also well documented by contemporary and later sources, as well as in his own poetry and correspondence. He was a prominent figure in a seminal period in the cultural and political history of Italy and Europe.

However, the extent of his bibliography on both more 'academic' and more 'popular' levels does not rule out further contributions especially when, as in this case, they are likely to engage a wide and thoughtful readership. Unger's treatment is generously paced; it adopts a narrative approach while taking time to discuss Lorenzo's Medici background and the Florentine and Italian contexts. The main focus is on Lorenzo as a political manager and Unger rightly keeps returning to the shifting borderline between emerging Medici lordship and traditional Florentine republicanism. He is perceptive on the methods taken to manipulate the constitution to secure the ascendancy of the Medici reggimento and on the interrelationship between internal and external politics. The importance of Florentine, and Medici, relations with the Church is brought out well.

The bibliography includes most of the recently published sources and authorities, though the text could have engaged more fully with the evidence made available through the ongoing--and cited--edition of Lorenzo's letters; these throw light on the dual nature of Florentine government, the diarchy between commune and Medici, for example in the areas of foreign affairs and the government of subject territories. However, the technicalities of the Florentine constitution and the intricacies of Italian politics are dealt with in informative foot--and endnotes. The illustrations are well chosen though, disappointingly, they are in black and white.

There are some slips: Pistoia was a subject not a client city of Florence; Cosimo de' Medici was not the architect of the Peace of Lodi; the city of Imola did not dominate Florence's trade routes to northern Europe; Savonarola was not a monk. Some passages suggest camera angles and sound effects rather than sober documentation and it is unlikely that Shakespeare was thinking of the young Lorenzo when he evoked the dissolute life of the young Prince Hal.

Some readers may be disappointed that the emphasis is not more on the 'magnificence' of Lorenzo, on his poetry, his showmanship, his recognized connoisseurship of the arts. But on the whole, this biography can be recommended, certainly in terms of political history.

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Author:Law, John E.
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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