Florence 1469 - Florence 1527
The son of Bernardo and Bartolomea de Nelli, Machiavelli as a youth studied Latin and transcribed Lucretius's De rerum natura and Terence's Eunucus, but probably did not learn Greek. His public activity began in 1498, when he entered the Florentine Chancellory. In the following years Machiavelli was assigned important international posts, but was never appointed ambassador due to his rather modest origins. He was sent on missions to France, to the papal court in Rome and to other principalities in Italy. In the mid-1510s he played a major role in the Pisan wars and worked to organize a citizens' militia in Florence, not formed of mercenaries. In 1506 his troops paraded through Piazza della Signoria, while in 1507 he was appointed Chancellor of the magistrature responsible for the militia. That same year he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Emperor Maximilian I. During the next two years the struggle with Pisa was intensified, until, on 8 June 1509, Machiavelli entered the defeated city at the head of his troops.
Machiavelli's political career was interrupted after August 1512 when Spanish troops allied with Pope Julius II sacked Prato. Subsequent to that defeat, the Gonfalonier for life Pier Soderini was forced to resign, while the Medici returned to Florence. Machiavelli, politically linked to Soderini, was stripped of all his public offices and condemned to a year of exile within the Florentine territory. In the following February Machiavelli was unwillingly involved in a conspiracy against the Medici, and was imprisoned and subjected to torture. But luck was with him, since a few months later an amnesty was granted to celebrate the rise to the pontificial throne of Giovanni de' Medici, under the name of Leo X. Machiavelli withdrew to the countryside, to his villa at Sant'Andrea in Percussina, where he composed his first masterpiece, The Prince (Il Principe). In 1515 he began to frequent the Orti Oricellari, where he read at least part of his Discourses on Livy (Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio). During those years he tried to approach the Medici again to obtain a political post, by exploiting his talent as a great writer. He composed important theatrical pieces - The Mandrake (Mandragola) may have been performed at Palazzo Medici - and published a highly successful The Art of War (Arte della Guerra). In 1520 Machiavelli managed to obtain, at the recommendation of Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, a commission to write a history of Florence.
In 1525 Machiavelli consigned his Florentine Histories (Istorie fiorentine) to Giulio de' Medici, who had become Pope Clement VII, while the following year, due to the war between the Empire and the League of Cognac which included Florence, he was delegated to supervise the fortification of the Florentine walls. Consequent to the defeat of the League, and even more to the Sack of Rome, the Medici were driven out of Florence and a Republic was established. Machiavelli was again dismissed from his posts, this time because of being linked to the Medici, and died a few months later, on 21 June 1527.
Ferrara 1452 - Florence 1498
The son of Niccolò and Elena Bonaccorsi, Girolamo was brought up according to severe moral and religious principles by his grandfather Michele, a renowned physician from Padua. In 1475 Savonarola left his birthplace and his medical studies to follow a religious vocation. In Bologna he entered the preachers' order ad perfected his theological education in Ferrara. In 1482 he was transferred for the first time to the Monastery of San Marco in Florence. His sermons were not greatly appreciated, but in 1485-86 at San Gimignano he proclaimed "that the Church must be flagellated, renewed, and soon". In 1487 Savonarola travelled outside of Florence, preaching in various Italian cities under 1490 when, thanks to the interest of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, he was called back to San Marco by Lorenzo the Magnificent. In 1491 he became Prior of the Monastery.
During those years Savonarola tried to impose on his monastery the old rigor of the Dominicans, and to do so he promoted the separation of San Marco from the Lombard Congregation to which it belonged. San Marco subsequently absorbed the monasteries in Prato, Fiesole and Pisa. In 1494, two years after Piero de' Medici had succeeded his father Lorenzo, Savonarola convinced the King of France Charles VIII, who had arrived in Florence with his army, not to sack the city. After this Savonarola became one of the main inspirers of constitutional reform in Florence in favour of the people. During the following years, Savonarola's prophetic preaching met with great success. His sermons called for the moralization of customs in the city, but also attacked the papal court of Alexander VI. The Pope took various measures, such as trying to promote Savonarola to the rank of cardinal, and dissolving the Congregation of San Marco, before going so far as to excommunicate the friar in 1497. The excommunication, deemed illegitimate insofar as formally incorrect, did not affect his political role until February 1498, when the faction opposed to Savonarola attained a majority in the Florentine Signoria. In the following months, also in connection with papal measures taken against the Florentine merchants in Rome, Savonarola was arrested and subjected to trial by an ecclesiastical court. At the end of May, judged heretical and schismatic, he was sentenced to death by hanging. His body was burned and the ashes thrown into the Arno.
Caprese (Arezzo) 1475 - Rome 1564
The son of Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni and Francesca di Neri di Miniato del Sera, Michelangelo entered the art workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio in 1487 and was admitted the following year to the school founded by Lorenzo de' Medici in the Garden of San Marco. He soon came into contact with Lorenzo the Magnificent's circle, where he met eminent intellectuals and humanists. Michelangelo remained on good terms with the Medici family even after the death of Lorenzo; for this reason, when Piero dei Medici was driven out of the city in 1494 he preferred to leave Florence, heading first for Bologna and then settling in Rome where, only a little over the age of twenty, he sculpted the Pietà now in St. Peter's.
In 1501 Michelangelo returned to his city, where he was assigned important commissions, including the David, which was placed in Piazza della Signoria to symbolize republican liberty. In 1505 he was summoned back to Rome by Pope Julius II, where he created such masterpieces as the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Back in Florence under the papacy of Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici), Michelangelo created the famous Medici Chapels for the Basilica of San Lorenzo. But after the expulsion of the Medici in 1527, it was his republicanism to triumph. Under the republican regime he was delegated public responsibilities, such as that of Governor General of the city's fortifications, for which he developed projects still visible today at the Casa Buonarroti. At the restoration of the Signoria in 1530, Michelangelo was officially pardoned by Giulio de' Medici/Pope Clement VII. The last thirty years of the artist's life abounded in major projects and works, while his stylistic experimentation also bears witness to an artistic personality that was anything but 'senile'.
Florence 1475 - Rome 1521
The second-born son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Beatrice Orsini, Giovanni de' Medici received an education of the highest level, with such outstanding teachers as Angelo Poliziano. Addressed to an ecclesiastical career since early boyhood, he was ordained a priest when only eight years old, and was secretly elected cardinal at the age of thirteen. In 1494 Giovanni was in Florence when the Medici were driven out of the city government, but managed to flee from the city disguised as a monk. Finding it impossible to return to Florence, and unwilling to go to Rome due to the hostility of Pope Alexander VI, Giovanni undertook a voyage through Europe together with other family members, among them Giulio de' Medici, the future Pope Clement VII. Returning to Rome in 1500, Giovanni promoted literature and the arts, in an ideal continuation of the work of his father, Lorenzo the Magnificent. He also became a reference point for the adversaries of the republican regime in Florence. Giovanni's destiny changed radically with the election of the new Pope Julius II, whose anti-French policy was to have the effect, after the Sack of Prato, of bringing the Medici back to Florence in 1512. As head of the Medici family, Giovanni showed moderation in healing the city's internal conflicts. Even the harsh repression of the conspiracy led by Pier Paolo Boscoli, in which Machiavelli was involved against his will, was probably ordered by the extremists in the Medicean party. After a few months, Giovanni managed to be elected pope under the name of Leo X, and in Florence an amnesty was declared, to the benefit of Machiavelli. In the years of his papacy, Florence was governed by his nephew, Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (until the death of the latter in 1519), but the authority of Pope Leo was always present in the city's life. During the festivities for Lorenzo's wedding in 1518, Leo X was unable to preside, but the famous portrait by Raphael was displayed in his stead. Leo X died suddenly in 1521.
Florence 1478 - Rome 1534
The natural son of Giuliano de' Medici, after having been entrusted to the care of Antonio da Sangallo for seven years, was welcomed by Lorenzo the Magnificent into his family. His first years of life were lived in the shadow of his cousin, Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, the future Pope Leo X. After the expulsion of the Medici from Florence, he undertook a long journey through Europe with his cousin. Upon returning to Italy he collaborated, in a rather subordinate position, in the "diplomatic" initiatives of the head of the family, Piero de' Medici and, after his death, in those of Cardinal Giovanni. After the Sack of Prato and the return of the family to Florence, he collaborated in reorganizing Medicean power, showing a rather moderate attitude. With the election to the papal throne of his cousin Giovanni, he soon managed to become Archbishop of Florence and then to be named cardinal. Giulio accumulated numerous ecclesiastical benefices, and over the years became one of the new pope's most influential advisers. He played a significant role in major international issues - also interwoven with Luther's movement - but the deaths of many family members, from Lorenzo di Piero to Alfonsina Orsini and up to that of Leo X, obliged him to reside always more stably in Florence. In the late 1510s, Giulio promoted new projects for institutional reform in Florence, to which Machiavelli contributed. The Cardinal also assigned Machiavelli the task of compiling a history of Florence.
After the papacy of Hadrian VI, Giulio was elected pope in 1523, under the name of Clement VII. Politically, he was very close to King Francis I of France, and participated in the League of Cognac opposed to the Emperor. The outcome of the war was devastating for Rome, which was put to the Sack in 1527; subsequent to this event, the Republic was restored in Florence. Allying himself with Emperor Charles V, Clement VII obtained support for reconquering Florence, which took place in 1530. In the following years Clement VII worked persistently to reinforce the Papal States, but he failed to estimate the importance of the great religious schisms then taking place. He died in 1534 after a severe illness.