Handsome, athletic, passionate and kind. That’s how history books portray Giuliano de’ Medici (Florence 1453-1478). He was the younger brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, at the time when the Medici family was unofficially ruling Florence. Giuliano didn’t get a chance to show all his qualities to the world, as he was brutally murdered during what is known as the Pazzi Conspiracy, on April 1478.

He didn’t have time to accomplish much during his short life, and while his brother gained a special place in history books, Giuliano will be remembered as the young golden boy whose life was cut short in his prime.

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Giuliano de’ Medici (left) and Lorenzo the Magnificent (right)

Giuliano de’ Medici: A few facts

The last son of Piero the Gouty and Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Giuliano was born in 1453, four years after Lorenzo. His grandfather Cosimo the Elder , wealthy banker and astute politician, was the one who started the fortune of the Medici family.

Giuliano was attractive, elegant and very good at jousting, he had a very special place in heart of the Florentine people.

He was very close to his brother, who was effectively at the head of the Florentine Republic and the Medici bank. Lorenzo was an able diplomat and politician who has been defined as ‘the needle on the Italian scale” in the turbulent second half of 1400. The two brothers were equally admired and envied by their fellow citizens.

Check out 10 curious facts about Lorenzo the Magnificent

“The joust of Giuliano de’ Medici”

Giuliano was made immortal, and fictionalised, by Poliziano’s famous poetic work, “The joust of Giuliano de’ Medici”. Here the humanistic poet, who was great friends with the Medici brothers, commemorated the tournament that Giuliano won in 1475. The joust was held in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence.

The young champion dedicated his victory to the joust’s queen of beauty, Simonetta Cattaneo, newly wed to Marco Vespucci. She was the most beautiful woman in Florence, admired by many including Giuliano, and muse to the Renaissance painter Sandro Botticellli, no less.

The fantasy of Giuliano and Simonetta love story was created in this poem and by one of Botticelli’s paintings, that was clearly inspired by Poliziano’s verses.

In “Mars and Venus” many saw the two young lovers, and it’s possible that Botticelli had them in mind while he was creating his masterpiece.

Learn some trivia and curiosities about the Medici family.

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“Mars and Venus” (about 1485), Botticelli

The women in Giuliano’s life

Simonetta and Giuliano would certainly have spent time in each other’s company, but as her husband was an important ally of the Medici, it’s very unlikely that they were lovers in real life. In truth, there is no historical record of a ‘real’ physical relationship between the two. They had something in common though. They both died very young. She was 22 at the time of her death, the cause of which was most likely tuberculosis. He was 25 when he was murdered.

Giuliano never got around to marriage. But he did have a very real lover, by the name of Fioretta Gorini. She was pregnant at the time of his assassination. A month later she gave birth to a boy, his illegitimate son.

The boy, Giulio, was adopted by Lorenzo who brought him up as if he were his own child. He ended up becoming Pope Clemente VII, (from 1523 to 1534).

What did Giuliano de’ Medici look like?

From the portraits by Botticelli and later Bronzino, he had dark hair, and was slim and elegant.

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Giuliano de’ Medici, portrait by Bronzino

His death – Pazzi conspiracy

Giuliano’s premature death on 26th April 1478 is a consequence of the so-called Congiura dei Pazzi, or Pazzi Conspiracy. The Medici boys had many enemies, in and outside Florence, political rivals that wanted to put an end to their growing power.

Members of the Pazzi family plotted with the Pope and other Italian rulers to get rid of the Medici. They planned the assassination of both Lorenzo and Giuliano for the 25th April, by poisoning during a banquet. But Giuliano was unwell that day and didn’t attend, so the plan was postponed.

The following morning, during Easter Mass, Giuliano was struck in the head and, as he lying on the Cathedral floor, Francesco de’ Pazzi inflicted no less than 19 wounds on his body.

Lorenzo managed to escape, but Giuliano ended up buried in the Old Sacristy church of San Lorenzo in Florence, the ‘Medici church’ where they are all interred.

Pazzi Conspiracy
The Pazzi Conspiracy – painting by Stefano Ussi

Where is Giuliano de’ Medici buried?

His tomb was later moved to the New Sacristy in the Medici Chapels – which is an extension of the San Lorenzo Church. The perfect Renaissance-style New Sacristy was designed by Michelangelo.

Giuliano is buried together with his brother Lorenzo (who died in 1492) in a simple tomb adorned just with three small statues. One is by Michelangelo, “Madonna with child”.

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Madonna with child by Michelangelo in the New Sacristy

Did you know? Giuliano de’ medici features as one of the protagonists of the second season of the Medici series “Medici: the Magnificent”.