If you want to pay your respects to one of the most famous members of the Medici family, Lorenzo the Magnificent, you’ll need to visit the Medici Chapel in Florence. Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as “Il Magnifico” (1449- 1492) is buried in a simple tomb in the New Sacristy, designed by none other than Michelangelo.
Lorenzo died at the age of 43, after a life full of passions and great achievements. Hi was an extraordinary life that immortalised his name. He was patron of the arts, the main actor in the flourishing of the Renaissance in Florence, an able politician and a diplomat who was defined by historians as ‘the needle in Italian politics’ during the 15th century.
How did Lorenzo the Magnificent die?
If Lorenzo de’ Medici had a magnificent life, the same cannot be said about his death. He had in fact suffered from gout since the age of 30. By the end of his life he had to be carried around in a litter, as he was unable to walk because of the severe pain caused by the illness.
He chose to die in one of his favourite places, his beautiful Villa in Careggi, just outside Florence. When he felt the end was getting closer, he asked to be accompanied there, where he spent his last months surrounded by friends, the beloved Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola.
In the last hours he gave his son Piero advice on how to behave. “Ma poiché, come dicono, ogni stato è un corpo con molte teste, né si può compiacere a tutti, ricordati di seguire nella varietà dei pareri sempre quello che ti paia il più onesto, e attieniti piuttosto al parere di tutti che non particolarmente a quello dei singoli». Always listen to everyone’s opinions – he told him – but only follow those that seem the most honest. Lorenzo was sure his fellow citizens would accept Piero as his successor in the powerful – if unofficial – role of ruler in Florence’s Republic.
⇒ Discover some curious facts about the Medici family.
The last hours of Lorenzo
According to his friend Poliziano, Lorenzo kept his dignity and fortitude until the end, and managed to keep a brave face despite the suffering, telling jokes even on his deathbed.
He summoned Savonarola, the Dominican friar who had been his opponent during his life, and asked his blessing. The friar urged him to have faith and to accept death with resignation – “Death is for me the sweetest of things” Lorenzo replied “If it’s the will of God”. They then prayed together, amicable enemies in the face of death.
Lorenzo the Magnificent died on 8th April 1492. He was only 43 years old. 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; the caged lions killing one another, a marble ball from the Cathedral struck by lightning, and menacing ghosts roaming the city.
He gave dispositions for his funeral to be relatively modest – in the same way his grandfather Cosimo de’ Medici had done – like a private citizen and not a head of state. After all, Florence was officially still a Republic even if he had acted as a head of state throughout his life.
Where is Lorenzo the Magnificent buried?
San Lorenzo Church in Florence was the church of the Medici. Located a few steps from their residence in Via Larga (today Palazzo Medici Riccardi), his predecessors had spent a lot to restructure it and decorate using the most talented artists of the time.
His body was first buried in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo, the one designed by Brunelleschi. Here Giovanni di Bicci – the ‘Godfather’ of the Medici family – and Piero, the father of Lorenzo, are buried here. Some decades later his body was transferred to the New Sacristy that Michelangelo had started designing in 1520.
⇒ The New Sacristy is part of the Medici Chapels complex, that can be visited with a separated ticket (8 euros).
The New Sacristy – The tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent
In the New Sacristy the Medici had asked the artist for four wall tombs, but Michelangelo only managed to finish two of the monuments. The one for Giuliano Duke of Nemours (the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) and the Duke of Urbino. It’s a silent contemplative room in grey stone with simple lines – the sculptures adding pathos to the space.
Both statues of the Dukes look towards the back wall where there is a large double tomb for Lorenzo Il Magnifico and his brother Giuliano, left unfinished.
It’s ironic to think that Michelangelo didn’t manage to complete the monument for Lorenzo, who had been his first patron and practically adopted him when he discovered his talent as a teenager. On the simple tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent there are three small sculptures: the “Madonna and Child” by Michelangelo sits between the two patron saints of the Medici family, San Cosma (1537, by Montorsoli) and San Damiano (1531, by Raffaele di Montelupo).
⇒ Discover the Most Beautiful Churches in Florence.