- The history of Florence begins with the settlements of the Etruscans whose remains can still be found in the region. In 59 BCE, Julius Caesar gave the land of Florentia to his retired soldiers who, thanks to its primordial location near the Via Cassia and along the Arno River, were able to transform it into a flourishing city. By the early 13th century, in spite of strife between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, Florence became one of the most prosperous and powerful cities of Europe, its stable economy dependent on cloth manufacturing and banking. The Ciompi Revolt, carried out by day laborers in the cloth industry, paved the way for the Albizzi family to emerge as the rulers of an oligarchic political system. This coincided with the arrival in Florence of the Medici who, by the end of the 14th century, established a bank that gave them great wealth and allowed them to become one of the city's leading families. In 1433, Cosimo de' Medici led a political faction that opposed the Albizzi and was exiled for it, yet the faction was influential enough to have him recalled in the following year. The Albizzi were removed from power and Cosimo became the new ruler of Florence. Two more exiles interrupted Medici rule: the first in 1494 when Piero de' Medici ceded Pisa to Charles VIII of France, thereby angering the Florentines who were already riled up by the preachings of Girolamo Savonarola, and in 1527 when they were expelled from the city after the sack of Rome. Three years later, the imperial forces captured Florence and reinstated the Medici as hereditary dukes. In 1569, the Medici were made Grand Dukes of Florence, ruling the city in that capacity until 1737, when the family died out. Key events in Florentine history include the Battle of Monteaperti of 1260 when the Sienese defeated the Florentine army, only to be under siege by Florence in 1554-1555 and finally taken in 1557. Pisa was able to ward off Florentine subjugation in the 1215 Battle of Montecatini, but in 1406 they were overtaken. One of the greatest enemies of Florence was Milan. On several occasions the Milanese forces tried to take over the city, but each time they were unsuccessful. A key moment in the struggle against Milan occurred in 1402; it seemed that Florence would fall to the enemy when Giangaleazzo Visconti, commander of the Milanese army, suddenly died. The Battle of Anghiari in 1440 led to victory against Milan, an event commemorated by Leonardo's fresco in the Sala del Consiglio of the Palazzo Vecchio; Michelangelo's Battle of Caseína, a conflict between Pisa and Florence in 1364 where the latter emerged victorious, is frescoed on the opposite wall. In 1478, the Pazzi Conspiracy took place, which resulted in the murder of Giuliano de' Medici and the wounding of his brother Lorenzo "the Magnificent." The conspirators were hunted down and severely punished for their transgression. In 1526, the League of Cognac, an alliance between PopeClement VII, Francis I of France, Venice, Florence, and Milan was formed to drive imperial power out of Italy. In retaliation, the imperial forces of Charles V invaded Rome in 1527, and burned and sacked the city, for which the Medici were exiled. It was the 1530 Battle of Gavinana that resulted in the capture of Florence by the imperial forces and the installation of Alessandro de' Medici as hereditary Duke of Tuscany.Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance and much of it is owed to the Medici, as it was under their patronage that many of the key figures of art, culture, and science worked, among them the artists Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Giorgio Vasari, Giovanni da Bologna, and Agnolo Bronzino, the humanist Poggio Bracciolini, the philosopher Marsilio Ficino, the satirist Pietro Aretino, the poet Angelo Poliziano, and the astronomer Galileo Galilei. The Medici also played an important role in the Renaissance revival of ancient texts. Under Cosimo's patronage, Ficino translated a number of ancient manuscripts from the Greek, making them available for the first time in the West. In 1439, Cosimo established the Platonic Academy where Ficino taught. The religious orders that settled in Florence also contributed to the cultural fabric of the city and its growth. They erected churches, convents, and monasteries throughout, and then commissioned artists to decorate these spaces. Arnolfo di Cambio, for example, built Santa Croce, and Fra Angelico painted a series of frescoes in the San Marco Monastery. The chapels in the newly built churches were assigned to important families who then commissioned artists to embellish them. Santa Croce alone boasts the chapels of the Bardi and Peruzzi, Bardi di Vernio, and Baroncelli frescoed by Giotto, Maso di Banco, and Taddeo Gaddi, respectively. Florence lost its preeminence as center of culture and intellectual life in the Baroque era when the lead was taken by Rome.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.
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