Who was Lorenzo de’ Medici, the man they called the ‘Magnificent’? Here we give you some fascinating facts about  the man behind the myth: his accomplishments, his passions and his untimely death. We can assure you there’s no shortage of drama, brilliance, conspiracies, and lust.

In a nutshell: Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as The Magnificent, was born in Florence in 1449 – son of Piero the Gouty and Lucrezia Tornabuoni – and died in 1492. One of the most famous and revered members of the Medici family, he played a vital part in Italy’s political games and the cultural life of Florence, and was one of the foremost patrons of the Florentine Renaissance.

⇒ Lorenzo is the protagonist of the new series of the Medici “The Magnificent”.

Meet Lorenzo the Magnificent – 10 curious facts

1. Why was he called Il Magnifico?

Historians have been calling him this for centuries, but how did he get the nickname? Was it because he was so extraordinary? Not really. When a man entered the Florentine Republic as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia (the highest rank) he was called Magnifico Messere. As a rule, no man younger than 45 could take on the role of Gonfaloniere, but for Lorenzo an exception was made.

When his father died, his fellow citizens asked Lorenzo to take up leadership of the Florentine Republic. He was only 21 at the time. He went down in history as the youngest gonfaloniere, and, given all his outstanding accomplishments, the nickname “Il Magnifico” stuck.

2. He wasn’t magnificent to look at

He had a flat nose, a nasal high-pitched voice and didn’t look the part at all.  “HIs long flattened nose looked broken and badly set, his jaw jutted forward and his eyebrows above his big, dark, penetrating eyes were irregular and bumpy. He was quite strikingly ugly“, writes Christopher Hibbert in his book (LINK). But he had a charming personality; animated and enthusiastic with a joyful nature that made him enormously popular.

lorenzo the magnificent facts

3. He escaped death by a hair’s breadth

During the Congiura dei Pazzi, there was a plot to assassinate him and his brother Giuliano. This Pazzi Conspiracy came to a head at Easter during Mass in Florence Cathedral, in 1478.

Lorenzo, an able swordsman, reacted promptly and managed to stop the would-be attacker who merely scratched him with a dagger. His younger brother wasn’t so fortunate, and died from 19 stab wounds, his blood staining the floor of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral.

Florence Cathedral

4. He was a gifted poet

Lorenzo was more than just an astute diplomat and politician out to secure power for himself. He was also a talented poet, and today Italian students study his poems as part their literature curriculum. One of his most famous verses is a reflection on the brevity of life and his carpe diem philosophy.

” Youth is sweet and well / But doth speed away! / Let who will be gay, / To-morrow, none can tell.”

5. One of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s passions was jousting 

As a young man he and his brother Giuliano entertained Florence by organising and taking part in spectacular games and jousting tournaments in Piazza Santa Croce. The poet Luigi Pulci dedicated one of his poems to him: “La Giostra di Lorenzo de’ Medici“.

=> What is the meaning of “Birth of Venus’ painting by Botticelli?

6. He didn’t marry for love

Lorenzo married a beautiful young woman from Rome called Clarici Orsini. She was different from him in every way. Where he was extrovert and passionate, she was shy and reserved. Where he was versatile and curious, she was conservative and quite petulant.

The marriage was a political move, rather than a love match, and organised by his mother. Despite the nature of their alliance they stayed together in a peaceful marriage and had 10 children together. He is said to have been distressed when she died in 1488.

lorenzo the magnificent facts

7. Lorenzo the Latin lover

He didn’t hide his restlessness or libido and often fell for married women. He’s described as “licentious and very amorous” (by Italian historian Guicciardini). He had a romantic attachment to Lucrezia Donati, a woman who he had known since they were very young, and with whom he had more in common than his wife. But it seems that their relationship remained platonic, and lived mainly in the sonnets that we wrote praising her beauty.

8. He wasn’t good at making money

He used to say quite proudly that he didn’t know much about the world of banking. With Lorenzo, not so Magnificent when it came to business, the Medici bank started a slow decline from which it would never recover. He was much better at spending it than making money, and put much of his finance towards entertainment and his great passion, art.

⇒ Check some more curious facts about the Medici family.

9. Lorenzo was the ultimate patron

He practically adopted Michelangelo when the artist was still a young boy. Lorenzo had opened a School of Sculpture near his house, in the San Marco garden, where he collected ancient statues to allow young artists to learn and improve in the art of sculpting. Michelangelo was one of those young men chiselling away in his garden. Lorenzo immediately recognised the impressive talent of this young artist and decided to take him into his home and treat him like his son.

Other artists that he financed or helped in many ways included Leonardo da Vinci and his teacher Verrocchio, Botticelli, Filippino Lippi and Ghirlandaio. He also lavished money on the patronage of writers and scholars, bought a vast number of manuscripts and with him the Medici library grew immensely.

10. He had an extravagant taste in pets

Apart from his love of horses, he fed his own horse Morello himself, he’s known to have kept exotic pets including a giraffe in his Villa in Poggio a Caiano, just outside Florence. A gift from a sultan, it was apparently was very tame and gentle. In his estate he also used to breed all sorts of animals including pigs, rabbits and peacocks.

lorenzo the magnificent facts
Medicean Villa in Poggio a Caiano
By Niccolo Rigacci – Photo shot by the Author, CC BY 2.5, Link

The death of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Lorenzo suffered from gout, like many of his predecessors. By the end of his life he couldn’t walk and had to be carried around in a litter. He wanted to die in his Villa at Careggi, and there spend his last months surrounded by friends.

He died on 8th April 1492, and his body was buried in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo Church in Florence, where many of the Medici family members took their final rest. In Florence the news of his death was received with desperation. In his final hours all sorts of dreadful portents are said to have happened around the city; Florence’s lions killing one another, a marble ball from the Cathedral struck by lightning, and ghosts roaming the city.

Find out about the last hours of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and his tomb in the Medici Chapels.