Edmund Fawcett reviews Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence by Tim Parks, in The Guardian:
Despite the trail of financial and political failure they left, we remember the Medici with dazzlement largely for two reasons. One is that they were very good at landing on their feet. The other is they were brilliant at spin.
Their bank, which opened in Florence in 1397, lasted less than 100 years. Its glory days were over even before Cosimo, its most capable head, died in 1464. As money ran out, Cosimo’s successors, Piero the Gouty and Lorenzo the Magnificent, relied ever more on manipulating Florence’s superficially republican constitution to hold on to princely influence and power. When enemies united to banish the Medici in 1494, their bank was already dead in the water, victim of mismanagement and a wider banking downturn.
The Medici soon slipped back into Florence as puppets of the Habsburg dynasty. They employed artists, notably Vasari, to present the Medici as Florence’s natural rulers and its art as Italy’s best. The Medici now put their wealth into land, which they did little to improve, and married their daughters into the sovereign houses of Europe. They ruled without glory and often oppressively until the line died out in 1737…