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The bank

On April 26, 1478, Lorenzo De Medici strode into Florence's Duomo with a cardinal at his side and a crowd of ten thousand eager Florentines behind him. As befitted a man nicknamed "Il Magnifico," or "the Magnificent," the affair was a spectacle of the grandest kind. Lorenzo chose to celebrate the cardinal's visit by bringing him to High Mass in the Duomo, where he could admire Giotto's astonishing Gothic campanile and Brunelleschi's recently completed dome. Afterward, Lorenzo had invited the lords, nobles, and ambassadors in attendance to a lavish banquet at the Medici Palace, where they could peruse the family's renowned collection of artwork and luxury goods from around the world: tapestries, vases, jewels, clocks, exotic cloths, and porcelain from China. Among its treasures were two paintings by Botticelli, three by Giotto, and six by Fra Angelico. Donatello's David stood in the courtyard.

Lorenzo was just twenty-nine years old at the time, but he already possessed that peculiar combination of innate talent and intellectual curiosity common to all the great minds of the age, a phenomenon that we now recognize with the term Renaissance man. He was a popular ruler, governing the Florentine Republic when it was the most powerful city-state in Italy. He was a wily diplomat, treating with dukes and kings and popes and often getting the better of them. He was a great connoisseur of artwork, patronizing what would become history's greatest collection of artists, including Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, and Ghirlandaio. He was a talented equestrian and jouster. In his free time, he wrote poetry and studied philosophy.

He also happened to be at the helm of Europe's greatest financial institution, the Medici Bank, founded over eighty years before by his great-grandfather, Giovanni. The bank's sky-high profits and international reach had lifted the family from relative obscurity to the heights of dynastic power. The family provided four popes to the Vatican and two queens to France. In Florence, it oversaw and paid for a flourishing of knowledge, art, literature, and architecture that has never been equaled. In Italy, it ushered in an era of economic and artistic transformation, the effects of which can be seen to this day. And in Europe, it paved the way for nations to emerge from the Middle Ages into a new era of prosperity.

But in a time of warring city-states and ever-shifting alliances, the success of the Medici Bank generated jealousy and resentment. One family in particular, the Pazzi, had become the sworn enemies of the Medici. The Pazzi, an old Florentine family, counted among its ancestors Pazzino de' Pazzi, the first knight to scale the walls of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. The family ran a rival bank that had suffered during the Medicis' ascent. Time and again, it had seen its efforts to regain lost glory stymied by the Medici Bank's seemingly unstoppable business empire. It was common knowledge that the Pazzi bore a grudge against Lorenzo and would be more than happy to see his bank falter.

But unbeknownst to Lorenzo, the Pazzi family had finally convinced powerful allies to join them in a plot to overthrow the Medici. And Lorenzo had just walked into their trap.

This tidbit is from the book For Profit by William Magnuson

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