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Marrissa Ballard Dr. Trainor Pell 299/Eng 399 2 December 2014 The Medici and Boccaccio: Renaissance Men During the Renaissance in Florence, citizens began to move on from classical, medieval values and embrace new ideas such as humanism and integration. The “Renaissance Man/Woman” emerged as a description of those who became masters of many different trades. Many famous Florentines were scholars, poets, painters, architects, politicians, and mathematicians all at once. Two areas that changed drastically during this period were art and banking, both of which involved the famous Medici family. The Medici ruled in every part of Florentine life, including art, politics, and the papacy. Literature also changed and developed during the Renaissance to fit the new values of the time. Boccaccio laid the foundation for humanism and helped raise vernacular literature to a higher status. He wrote The Decameron, an enormous body of work made up of 100 stories, which describes contemporary life during the Renaissance. The Medici’s rule over Florence and Boccaccio’s contributions to literature, particularly The Decameron, exemplify the values of the Renaissance; humanism, personal freedom, and integration. The Medici were an example of the ideal “Renaissance Man” because they dabbled in so many areas; they were bankers, scholars, art collectors, and some of the Medici were also amateur architects. The Medici also ruled and integrated themselves into every area of Florentine life, including “statesmanship and financial capacity…in civil administration and sympathy with the feelings of the people,” (Young 11). One of the Medici’s largest contributions to Florentine society was the creation of the Medici bank and wool factories. The first Medici bank was founded by Giovanni di Bicci in 1397. New techniques such as double-entry book-keeping and bills of exchange made the bank successful because the Medici were able to keep neat and accurate records of the bank’s activity. The Medici’s success came from their political connections and their roles as both bankers and merchants. The Medici would purchase goods like spices and tapestries from abroad for their rich clients and sell the goods at higher prices to make a profit. The Medici also founded wool and silk factories and gained immense wealth from the wool and silk trades. They were also able to build a hidden interest rate into their loans by working with foreign currency. The bank would lend money out in one currency and collect the debt in another. This technique helped them gain more money than their competitors, which allowed the bank to last for nearly a century. After the death of Giovanni, Cosimo de’ Medici took control and was responsible for the expansion of the bank. Under Cosimo, more branches were created in other Italian states such as Rome and Venice. Cosimo set up alliances that gave the Medici control over most businesses in Florence. The Medici made most of their money through lending to royalty and public officials. The branch in Rome was most successful because of its connections to the pope and many other small parishes. By the 15th century, the Medici bank in Rome became the official bank of the papacy and the Medici were known as “God’s Bankers” (education-portal.com). The connection to the papacy brought the Medici immense wealth and power because most Italian citizens wanted an account with the pope’s personal bank. The Medici presence in Rome and Florence allowed them to gain political positions in both states. Their innovations revolutionized banking and these innovations still impact banking today. The Medici used their wealth and connections to gain political control of Florence. The Medici started as merchants and bankers and rose gradually until “they became the most powerful family in Europe,” (Young 10). Through the bank and connections to most businesses and the papacy, the Medici became well-liked in Florentine society and were able to gain political positions. Four of the Medici were popes and eventually “there was a Medici on the throne of nearly every principal country,” (Young 10). Cosimo de’ Medici was exiled by a rival family in 1433 but he was able to come back because of his many political connections. Cosimo then furthered the power of the Medici by funding the humanities and arts, which “made Florence into the cradle of the Renaissance,” where the most innovative art and architecture of the time was created (history.com). Famous artists such as Botticelli, Brunelleschi, and Michelangelo were funded by the Medici. Michelangelo and Brunelleschi built several monuments to the Medici in San Lorenzo, which demonstrated the Medici’s power and influence. The Medici’s decision to use their wealth to support art and the humanities gave artists the ability to create new styles and techniques. The Medici collected ancient Greek and classical texts, creating what is known today as “the most important and prestigious collection of antique books in Italy,” (Museums in Florence). Their collection of classical texts demonstrates yet another value of the Renaissance; honoring classical works. Because the Medici were so wealthy, the artists they commissioned did not have to worry about money, and could often spend as much as they wanted. This gave the artists in Florence personal freedom over their projects and allowed them to create beautiful structures like the Laurentian Library. Not only did the Medici commission beautiful works and buildings, but many of them were actively involved in the creation process. Pope Clement VII, the Medici responsible for commissioning the Laurentian Library, traded letters with Michelangelo every other day to check on the progress of the buildings (Wallace 136). The Medici’s patronage of the arts and humanities emphasized the importance of humanism and personal freedom. The artists were free to create whatever they wanted, and could spend as much as they wanted to do so. The Medici also successfully integrated themselves into the art and architecture of the Renaissance, the areas that are still closely studied today. Through the buildings and paintings created in their honor and with their patronage, the Medici immortalized their influence and power. Through his mastery of business, law, and literature, Giovanni Boccaccio emerges as yet another example of the “Renaissance Man.” Boccaccio was born in 1313 in Italy. Many of the details of his early life are unknown but scholars believe he married a woman name Margherita de’ Mordoli. Margherita’s mother “was a close kin to Dante’s Beatrice,” (Bergin 31). Boccaccio, through their marriage, had a connection to Dante, a poet whom he loved and admired. He received most of his information about Dante from Margherita, which fueled his love and study of poetry. Boccaccio went on to study business but abandoned his business career to pursue cannon law. His study of law brought him into contact with many famous lawyers of the time, such as Cino de Pistoia. Pistoia was a lawyer of “great prestige” but was more famous for being “a friend of Dante” and “a poet himself,” (Bergin 37). Many scholars believe that Boccaccio learned more about poetry than he did about law under Pistoia’s teaching. Boccaccio’s admiration of Dante led him to write a biography about the poet in 1355. Later in his life, Boccaccio gave lectures on Dante’s poems. Boccaccio also held many public offices and served as a consul on the Arte del Cambio, the Guild of moneylenders. Eventually Boccaccio dedicated himself fully to literature and poetry and wrote many famous works such as The Decameron. By the end of his life, Boccaccio could be described as a public official, lawyer, scholar, banker, and writer. All of these titles demonstrate how Boccaccio mastered many skills and was an example of a “Renaissance Man.” Boccaccio is most famous for his contributions to literature and poetry. His work contained the values of the Renaissance and displayed new themes and characters that differed from classical works. Boccaccio is “sometimes accredited as the founder of Humanism” because his stories focused on humans living on earth and in the present (famousauthors.org). He studied Dante and other classical writers, but his stories described life in a contemporary way. Boccaccio wrote in the vernacular, Italian, which was a departure from the classical tradition of writing in Latin. The Decameron, finished in 1358, is one of Boccaccio’s most well-known works. The book includes 100 stories about 7 women and 3 men who leave Florence to escape the plague. The group reinstates a social order by electing a king or queen each day and telling stories that reflect the values of the Renaissance. Each story, whether it is tragic or comedic, contains a moral lesson and most of the stories end with love and virtue triumphing over evil. He focuses often on all forms of love and how they transcend mortality. The moral code within The Decameron is less strict than medieval moral codes; the characters embrace human sexuality and wit while still honoring the importance of appearance and manners. Many of the stories demonstrate how manners and behavior mattered more than birth or titles. Boccaccio’s Decameron marks a shift in literature because instead of focusing on the afterlife or God, it focuses on human life in the here and now. Story V on the fourth day, the story of Lisbetta, demonstrates Boccaccio’s main theme of love transcending mortality. In this story, sexual love becomes true love when it is crossed by death and tragedy. Lisbetta and Lorenzo have a secret affair, which ends when Lorenzo is murdered by her brothers. She is “sick at heart” and calls for Lorenzo every night (Boccaccio 88). Lorenzo appears to her in a dream and tells her the truth about his murder. When Lisbetta finds his body, she keeps the head and puts in a pot with the “goodliest basil” (Boccaccio 89). The most striking image from the story is Lisbetta, crying over the pot of basil until it grows to become a beautiful plant. When her brothers take the pot away from her, she “ceased not to weep and crave her pot,” and dies weeping (89). The pot of basil “enshrined her Lorenzo,” immortalizing him and their love (89). The story emerges as a portrait of true love, crossed by tragedy, but immortalized in the pot of basil as well as future songs and paintings inspired by the story. The group listening to this story are surrounded by death and sickness but the story of Lisbetta proves that true love transcends mortality. The story of Griselda on day ten, Story X, also demonstrates another of Boccaccio’s main themes; that manners and behavior create a distinguished woman, rather than class or upbringing. Gualtieri, the Marquis of Saluzzo, decides to get married but chooses a poor girl to be his wife. The poor girl’s name is Griselda, and Gualtieri requests that his friends “pay her the honor due to a lady,” (Boccaccio 160). Griselda acts with noble manners despite her poor upbringing, which “caused as many as she had known before to marvel” at her grace (Boccaccio 161). Gualtieri then tests her by pretending to kill their children and feigning that he will divorce her. Griselda, who promised to obey him and be a dutiful wife, faces each test with grace and calmness, even when he pretends to marry a new bride. Griselda impresses Gualtieri and the other nobles with her composure. When Gualtieri reveals that his actions were tests and brings the children back, Griselda is honored for her grace and devotion to Gualtieri. At the end of the story, Dioneo questions “Who but Griselda had been able, with a countenance not only tearless, but cheerful, to endure the heard and un-heard trials to which Gualtieri subjected her?” (Boccaccio 167). Dioneo is implying that only Griselda could have passed Gualtieri’s tests. Despite her upbringing, Griselda behaves nobly and proves that behavior matters more than birth. Griselda’s story demonstrates that humans have control over their lives because even though she was born a farmhand, she was able to rise up and earn honor through her actions. During the Florence Renaissance, there was a drastic shift from classical and medieval values and styles to humanistic and nontraditional styles. While the art and literature of the Middle Ages focused on a strict moral code and promises of the afterlife, the works of the Renaissance portrayed life in the present. Instead of specializing in only one area, Renaissance men and women became masters of several trades. The Medici family used that same mentality in their effort to rule over every part of Florentine society. Not only did they conquer and rise to powerful positions in the papacy and Florentine government, they amassed an enormous amount of money through banking and trade. The Medici then cemented their place in history by recycling that wealth back into Florence by funding the work of amazing artists like Michelangelo. Boccaccio, like the Medici, also mastered many trades including banking and writing. Boccaccio’s writing emphasizes life in the present, even surrounded by death and the plague. The stories in The Decameron portray love’s triumph over evil and social mobility not confined by birthright or bloodlines. The Decameron emerges as a portrait of Florentine life and society, complete with a humanistic moral code. The Medici family and Boccaccio embodied the ideas and values of the Renaissance through their studies and work, which demonstrated the advancements and changes in Florence during the Renaissance. Works Cited Bergin, Thomas Goddard. Boccaccio. New York: Viking Press, 1981. Print. Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2011. Print. "Giovanni Boccaccio." Famous Authors. Famous Authors.org, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.famousauthors.org/giovanni-boccaccio>. "The House of Medici: Rise and Fall of a Banking Family." Education Portal. Education Portal, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/the-house-ofmedici-rise-and-fall-of-a-banking-family.html>. "Laurentian Library." The Museums in Florence. Hidden Italy, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/Laurentian_Library.html>. "The Medici Family." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.history.com/topics/medici-family>. Wallace, William E. Michelangelo at San Lorenzo: The Genius as Entrepreneur. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. Print. Young, G. F. The Medici. New York: Modern Library, 1930. Print.