Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 101.1
Lorenzo de’ Medici
Lorenzo de’ Medici Letter
Florence, 8 January 1485


This document is a letter written by Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence to the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, on January 8th, 1485. It is autographed by Lorenzo though it was written by a scribe or notary. The letter is one sheet of paper with writing in brown ink and humanistic script, on both verso and recto, and it is folded horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. The hand is generally uniform and neat, with fairly even ink saturation and only a few smudges and marks from the folding. There is a circular reddish mark on the verso, presumably from a wax seal (now missing). Lorenzo’s name on the bottom right of the recto is clearly readable: his given name and the initial ‘L’ are somewhat larger than his family name, and his valedictory “Ex(cellenza) V(ostra) S(ign)or” is abbreviated before the signature, according with standard practice for noble titles.

Lorenzo de’ Medici begins his letter with greetings to Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, although it is likely that he was actually writing to Ludovico Sforza, Gian Galeazzo’s uncle and regent at this time. Lorenzo discusses the difficulties he has had in getting this letter to Milan, as messages from Rome, Naples, and Pittigliano are currently being intercepted by enemy forces. Lorenzo deems this state of affairs outrageous, given that such dispatches are supposed to be protected under a safe passage agreement. He tells Sforza that from now on, dispatch riders will take a more roundabout way, and that hopefully “if any diligence is used” they and their messages will arrive safely. Lorenzo also says that he has sent yet other important letters on to Giovanfrancesco Oliva, who he hopes has taken security measures such that even if the messages are intercepted, their contents will not be comprehensible to “our enemies.”

The Medici are undoubtedly Renaissance Italy’s most famous family. Powerful bankers, they handled the accounts of the papacy and had financial offices throughout Europe, and they dominated politics and culture in their home city of Florence for three centuries. While his grandfather Cosimo (posthumously known as pater patriae, “father of the fatherland”) was known for the shrewd ways he unofficially ruled the city from behind the scenes—thus preserving the appearance of republican liberty—Lorenzo was far less subtle. He was known as “the Magnificent,” and he exercised the power his family had over Florence in an openly princely manner. In addition to his political dealings in Italy and abroad (e.g., his correspondence here with Milan’s ruling family, the Sforza) Lorenzo continued the Medici tradition of acting as generous patrons to some of the era’s most famous artists, including Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo.

—Alexandra Thomas

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Umanistica professionale di segretario, legata, regolare, ricca di abbreviazioni.
Da notare: l’alternanza tra d diritta (r. 1: da) e tonda (r. 2: ad); la e con tratto mediano spesso allungato (r. 6: fede); la s sempre di forma minuscola (r. 3: residenti).

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