Top Ten Books on The Medici Family during the Renaissance

Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline Murphy

Love them or hate them, the Medicis played an important role in Florence during the Italian Renaissance. They were patrons of the arts, politicians, bankers, and rulers. Some historians have argued that the Medicis helped foster the Italian Renaissance while others have pointed out they were little more than petty despots. Regardless, the Medicis were a fascinating and important family of unique and unusual characters. Here are some books that will help you understand them better.

Paul Strathern, The Medici—Godfathers of the Renaissance (London, Pimlico, 2005),

A dazzling history of the modest family which rose to become one of the most powerful in Europe, The Medici is a remarkably modern story of power, money and ambition. Against the background of an age which saw the rebirth of ancient and classical learning - of humanism which penetrated and explored the arts and sciences and the 'dark' knowledge of alchemy, astrology, and numerology - Paul Strathern explores the intensely dramatic rise and fall of the Medici family in Florence, as well as the Italian Renaissance which they did so much to sponsor and encourage.

Miles J. Unger, Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de Medici, (London, Simon and Schuster 2008)

Magnifico is a vividly colorful portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici, the uncrowned ruler of Florence during its golden age. A true "Renaissance man," Lorenzo dazzled contemporaries with his prodigious talents and magnetic personality. Known to history as Il Magnifico (the Magnificent), Lorenzo was not only the foremost patron of his day but also a renowned poet, equally adept at composing philosophical verses and obscene rhymes to be sung at Carnival.

Arthur Field, The Intellectual Struggle for Florence: Humanists and the Beginnings of the Medici Regime, 1420-1440 (Oxford University Press, 2017)

The Intellectual Struggle for Florence is an analysis of the ideology that developed in Florence with the rise of the Medici, during the early fifteenth century, the period long recognized as the most formative of the early Renaissance. Instead of simply describing early Renaissance ideas, this volume attempts to relate these ideas to specific social and political conflicts of the fifteenth century, and specifically to the development of the Medici regime.

Lauro Martines, April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici (Oxford, Oxford University Press 2003

On a Sunday in April 1478, assassins attacked Lorenzo and his brother as they attended Mass in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo scrambled to safety as Giuliano bled to death on the cathedral floor. April Blood moves outward in time and space from that murderous event, unfolding a story of tangled passions, ambition, treachery, and revenge. April Blood offers us a fresh portrait of Renaissance Florence, where dazzling artistic achievements went side by side with violence, craft, and bare-knuckle politics. At the center of the canvas is the figure of Lorenzo the Magnificent--poet, statesman, connoisseur, patron of the arts, and ruthless "boss of bosses."

Hibbert, Christopher. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. (William Morrow, 2012)

It was a dynasty with more wealth, passion, and power than the houses of Windsor, Kennedy, and Rockefeller combined. It shaped all of Europe and controlled politics, scientists, artists, and even popes, for three hundred years. It was the house of Medici, patrons of Botticelli, Michelangelo and Galileo, benefactors who turned Florence into a global power center, and then lost it all.

Paul Strathern, The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance (Pegasus, 2017)

A dazzling history of the modest family that rose to become one of the most powerful in Europe, The Medici is a remarkably modern story of power, money, and ambition. Against the background of an age that saw the rebirth of ancient and classical learning Paul Strathern explores the intensely dramatic rise and fall of the Medici family in Florence, as well as the Italian Renaissance which they did so much to sponsor and encourage. Strathern also follows the lives of many of the great Renaissance artists with whom the Medici had dealings, including Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello; as well as scientists like Galileo and Pico della Mirandola; and the fortunes of those members of the Medici family who achieved success away from Florence, including the two Medici popes and Catherine de' Médicis, who became Queen of France and played a major role in that country through three turbulent reigns.

Paul Strathern, Death in Florence: The Medici, Savonarola, and the Battle for the Soul of a Renaissance City (Pegasus Books, 2015)

By the end of the fifteenth century, Florence was well established as the home of the Renaissance. As generous patrons to the likes of Botticelli and Michelangelo, the ruling Medici embodied the progressive humanist spirit of the age, and in Lorenzo de' Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent) they possessed a diplomat capable of guarding the militarily weak city in a climate of constantly shifting allegiances between the major Italian powers.

Mary Hollingsworth, The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty (Pegasus Books, 2018)

Mary Hollingsworth argues that the idea that the Medici were enlightened rulers of the Renaissance is a fiction that has now acquired the status of historical fact. In truth, the Medici were as devious and immoral as the Borgias—tyrants loathed in the city they illegally made their own. In this dynamic new history, Hollingsworth argues that past narratives have focused on a sanitized and fictitious view of the Medici—wise rulers, enlightened patrons of the arts, and fathers of the Renaissance—but that in fact their past was reinvented in the sixteenth century, mythologized by later generations of Medici who used this as a central prop for their legacy.

Catherine Fletcher, The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici (Oxford University Press, 2016) Ruler of Florence for seven bloody years, 1531 to 1537, Alessandro de' Medici was arguably the first person of color to serve as a head of state in the Western world. Born out of wedlock to a dark-skinned maid and Lorenzo de' Medici, he was the last legitimate heir to the line of Lorenzo the Magnificent. By the age of nineteen, he was prince of Florence, inheritor of the legacy of the grandest dynasty of the Italian Renaissance. Catherine Fletcher tells the riveting tale of Alessandro's unexpected rise and spectacular fall, unraveling centuries-old mysteries, exposing forgeries, and bringing to life the epic personalities of the Medicis, Borgias, and others as they waged sordid campaigns to rise to the top.

Caroline P. Murphy, Murder of a Medici Princess (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Caroline Murphy here illuminates the brilliant life and tragic death of Isabella de Medici, one of the brightest stars in the dazzling world of Renaissance Italy, the daughter of Duke Cosimo I, ruler of Florence and Tuscany. Murphy is a superb storyteller, and her fast-paced narrative captures the intrigue, the scandal, the romantic affairs, and the violence that were commonplace in the Florentine court. Isabella, in fact, conducted numerous affairs, including a ten-year relationship with the cousin of her violent and possessive husband. Her permissive lifestyle, however, came to an end upon the death of her father, who was succeeded by her disapproving older brother Francesco. Considering Isabella's ways to be licentious and a disgrace upon the family, he permitted her increasingly enraged husband to murder her in a remote Medici villa.

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