Bronzino, Eleonora di Toledo and Francesco de’ Medici, ca. 1550.©HALTADEFINIZIONE® IMAGE BANK BY PERMISSION OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURAL ACTIVITIES AND HERITAGE— POLO MUSEALE DELLA TOSCANA/MUSEO NAZIONALE DI PALAZZO REALE, PISA
The history of society’s elite using art to solidify their power isn’t short, but it’s possible that members of the Medici family are among the most innovative figures in that lineage. In 15th- and 16th-century Italy, during the height of the Renaissance, the Medici established themselves as the greatest art patrons of their day, setting a course for mega-collectors active now (think François Pinault or Mitchell and Emily Rales). Members of the Medici family forged close relationships with artists like Michelangelo and Jacopo da Pontormo, and used their deep connections to commission major works that would signify their vast influence.
In bringing on top artists to make paintings, sculptures, chapels, and more for them, the Medici weren’t just flaunting their worldliness and their wealth. Anyone with even a vague knowledge of politics at the time would know that the Medici, who came to power because of a fortune accrued through the family’s banking empire established at the end of the 14th century, had the means. The work they had artists produce also had a political purpose—acting as potent symbols of the family’s dominion in virtually all aspects of society in Florence and effectively boosting the city as an art center in the process.