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4.0 out of 5 stars A history you can bank on, 13 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance (Paperback)
WHILST on the face of it, this is a biography of one of the world's most significant historical families, Strathern's account of 400 years of the Medici family ends up in turn charting the course of European history through the various branches of Florence's most illustrious family.

The story of this family, deeply rooted in banking and commerce, meanders from the medieval era right through to the middle of the 18th century, drawing in characters and events from England to the Balkans and emphasises unapologetically the influence wielded by the Medici clan across the old world in matters of trade, politics, war, religion, science and of course of art. This was the family which variously championed Gallileo, Brunelleschi and gave its name to two popes. A family which was subsumed by conflict in countless wars and whose riches built Florence.

Strathern tells the story in a highly readable and undoubtedly popular manner. He is not weighed down by the intricacies of banking method which first procured the Medici fortune but neither does he gloss over the subtleties of political intrigue and scandal which permeated the Medici lineage. For the most part it is a sophisticated but accessible account of the part played by the Medici in much of Europe's history, interspersed with biographical accounts of figures in the clan from the revered Lorenzo the Magnificent to the charicature Gian Gastone.

The book elicits feelings of contempt, anger and compassion for the characters it touches upon. Similarly the events chronicled by Strathern elucidate anger, frustration and wonderment. At times the Medici, like the world around them, were capable of genius whilst otherwise acting in a most base and neanderthal manner.

As it nears its end, the book is guilty of diverting away from the story of the Medici in becoming a more general historical account of the 17th and 18th centuries. Certainly the chapter on Gallileo over-emphasises the importance of Medici protection in all but a couple of key incidents. By the end of the book - as at the end of the Medici story - it is clear the part played by the Florentine banking family is a bit-part and they are no longer key figures on Europe's political scene.

Even those with a researched knowledge of the Medicis will find themselves surprised by the scope of their involvement in science, art and politics from 1450 up until the 1700s by which time Gian Gastone had turned the name into a laughing stock.

My own cause for reading this book was as a pretext to a holiday in Florence. My understansing of the artwork, the architecture and the aesthetic of this city was enhanced greatly by this most enjoyable and intricate discourse on the wonderful lives of this wondrous family. I would heartily recommend this to anyone visiting Tuscany, such was the influence of this family on the towns and villages which make up this beautiful landscape. Similarly, anyone with a fleeting interest should consider this as near to a definitive account of the Medici family as can be found.
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