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Who Was Cosimo The Elder?

Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici—or as he is most commonly known, Cosimo The Elder—was born on April 19, 1389. He was the first in his family to acquire political status, thus igniting the Medici dynasty. Cosimo’s power stemmed from his inheritance. From his father, he received the entire patrimony of his family which included his family’s enterprise, the Medici Bank. He became one of the richest men of his time, even wealthier than his father.

Cosimo married Contessina de’ Bardi, whose noble family ran one of the wealthiest banks in Europe called the Compagnia dei Bardi, The Bardi Company. Even after the fall of The Bardi Company in 1345, the family remained prominent in Florence. Cosimo and Contessina had two sons together, Piero and Giovanni. He also had an illegitimate child, Carlo, with a slave from Circassia, once a country and now a region located along the Black Sea.

In 1433, Cosimo was arrested and banished from Florence by the Albizi family, his predecessor who was threatened by Cosimo’s growing popularity. Not long after his exile he was summoned back to Florence by the Republic to deal with the demands of the public. Cosimo then, in turn, banished the Albizi and took control of public office, governing from the background.

A patron of the arts during the time of the Renaissance, Cosimo spent a considerable amount of his wealth on the construction of architectural works, which helped him gain political power and the votes of the populace. He also commissioned sculptures and paintings, but his most notable contribution was to architectural works such as Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, the Medici Palace, designed by Michelozzo, San Lorenzo Church designed by Filippo Brunelleschi as well as San Marco Church also by Michelozzo. He had a close relationship with the classical sculpture, Donatello, which led to the production of the bronze sculpture of David.

As an important part of the humanist movement, Cosimo founded the first public library in Florence in 1444.

Upon his death in 1464, the government of Renaissance Florence, also known as the Signoria, honored him with the title of Pater Patriae, Father of the Nation. He died in his villa, the Villa of Careggi, and his crypt was placed in San Lorenzo Church.

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