The rise of the Medici in Florence coincided with the triumph of the capitalist class over the guild merchants and artisans. Until 1532 the democratic constitution of Florence was outwardly upheld, but the Medici exerted actual control over the government without holding any permanent official position. They were driven from power and expelled from Florence in 1433–34, from 1494 to 1512, and from 1527 to 1530. However, the attempts (such as the Pazzi conspiracy, 1478) of the Florentine republicans to restore the former liberties failed ultimately because of the Medici's wealth and powerful connections.
When their influence began, in the early 15th cent., much of the glorious period of the Renaissance in Florence lay already in the past; however, the magnificence and liberality of many of the members of the house, who were passionate patrons of the arts, literature, and learning, led to Florence's becoming the richest repository of European culture since the Athens of Pericles. Florence as it is today is largely the accomplishment of the Medici. This cultural flowering was accompanied by tremendous economic prosperity and expansion and also by territorial aggrandizement (see Tuscany) that reached its climax in the 16th cent. The rule of the Medici, though denounced by their enemies as tyrannical, was at first generally tolerant and wise, but became stultifying and bigoted in the 17th and 18th cent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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