Lorenzo de’ Medici died in the spring of 1492 at Careggi, one of the family’s villas outside Florence. Inheriting his father’s medical maladies, Lorenzo in his last years suffered increasingly from gout and other illnesses. He was only forty-three. Shortly before his death, Lorenzo received Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican monk who had recently become a notable figure in Florentine life for his vehement condemnations of Renaissance society in general and Lorenzo in particular. Within two years, Savonarola became the ruler of Florence. Lorenzo’s son, Piero, had neither his father’s abilities nor his luck, and the Medicis were forced into exile.
Yet Medici wealth and influence were not extinguished. Just before Lorenzo’s death, one of his sons, Giovanni, age sixteen, had become a cardinal in the Catholic Church. In 1512, the Medicis returned to Florence from exile, and in the following year Giovanni was elected pope as Leo X. He died in 1521, and after a brief hiatus his cousin, Giulio, the illegitimate son of Lorenzo’s brother, ascended the papal throne as Clement VII. In 1533, Clement performed the marriage of Catherine de Médicis to the son of King Francis I of France. She became one of the most powerful women of the sixteenth century. In Florence, the Medicis became hereditary dukes. The republic was over.
Lorenzo was a controversial figure in his own era and has remained so ever since. His status is suggested by the epithet that frequently accompanies his name: Il Magnifico (the Magnificent). During his era that appellation was used as an honorary title for various Florentine officials; in time, however, it was applied only to Lorenzo. Fifteenth century Florence epitomizes the civilization of the Renaissance, and Lorenzo the Magnificent remains inseparable from the history of that civilization and that city. His reputation has fluctuated; he has been praised for qualities he perhaps did not possess, and he has been condemned for activities which were not within his responsibility. One of his critics was his fellow Florentine, the historian Francesco Guicciardini, an avid republican in ideology. Still, even Guicciardini had to admit that if Florence was not free under Lorenzo, “it would have been impossible for it to have had a better or more pleasing tyrant.”