Empires: Medici - Godfathers of the Renaissance (2004) s01e03 Episode Script

Medici Popes

For over a century, one family had run the city of Florence.
They had carved their name into the heart of the Florentine Renaissance.
The Medici.
But at the height of their success they had been toppled by a sudden revolution.
Now, two cousins raised as brothers struggled to resurrect the supremacy of their family and regain control of Florence.
Giovanni and Giulio de' Medici would aim for the ultimate power the papacy.
They would press into their service the greatest artist of all time.
Michelangelo Buonarroti would redefine all fields of artistic achievement.
But he would watch in fear as the Medici split the Church in two and drove Florence, Rome and Europe to the brink of collapse.
Home of the Italian Renaissance for nearly 200 years.
It is a city at the heart of an artistic revolution.
And now, in a workshop behind the cathedral, an extraordinary work of art was beginning to take form.
A single 13-foot block of marble had stood for 35 years waiting for a sculptor brave enough to take on the challenge.
That sculptor's name was Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Michelangelo lived for his work.
He was, I think, by any standards, a workaholic.
He rarely ate.
He didn't sleep very much.
He would often set away in the dead of night with his hammer ringing away.
He didn't take his boots off, apparently, for months at a time so that when he did take them off, the skin came along with the boots.
The colossal project would take nearly three years to complete.
To guide his progress, Michelangelo submerged a small wax model in water.
Day by day, he let the level drop, and what Michelangelo saw emerging from the water he chiselled carefully from his marble block.
He also devised a constant shower of water to keep the dust down and his body cool.
The giant Michelangelo was creating would come to symbolise his struggles against the family he had once adored.
Fifteen years earlier, the sculptor had been adopted into the greatest family in Florence.
Michelangelo had moved in with the Medici.
The young artist was exposed to a world of artistic achievement.
This single dynasty had nurtured the greatest artists of the Florentine Renaissance.
But every work of art produced in their name served a greater purpose the promotion of the Medici brand.
Their patronage declared the power of a family that controlled all of Florence.
Michelangelo was raised alongside the heirs to the Medici dynasty.
And he watched as Giovanni de' Medici was prepared for life in the Church.
Giovanni, Lorenzo's son, was marked out for the Church from the age of seven and his cousin, Giulio, is also marked out for the Church the boy is, by Lorenzo.
And the two are, as it were, brought up together.
But peace in the Medici home would be short-lived.
A bloody civil war exploded in the streets of Florence, sparked by resentment of Medici wealth and power.
Michelangelo remained in Florence while all traces of Medici insignia were wiped from the streets.
And the heirs to this once great dynasty were cast into exile.
Giulio de' Medici had been ordained a priest and a prior.
One step ahead, his cousin Giovanni was already a cardinal.
But their clerical connections meant little without the power base of Florence.
Florence is extremely important.
The Medici, as church dignitaries, are really only that without Florence.
With Florence, they're much more.
They carry much more clout.
But the city of Florence had placed a price on both their heads.
The cousins were forced to roam through Italy, seeking the support of friends who could lead them on the path back to power.
In Florence, Michelangelo had shrugged off his association with the exiled Medici and now his masterpiece was nearing completion.
The city would soon have a formidable symbol of independence.
On the 25th of January, 1504, Michelangelo felt ready to expose his work to the scrutiny of the outside world.
The David started out as a commission for the cathedral in Florence to be put far up on top of the building.
That's why it's so big - it had to be visible from the ground.
When he finished it, the authorities came to look at it and everyone agreed that this was such a monumental step forward that it would be a shame to put it up there on top of the cathedral because nobody would ever see it.
And what they decided was that it ought to be put outside the town hall.
But context determines meaning.
On a religious building, it would have been primarily understood as David the prophet, the God-given hero.
In front of a public governmental building, it became, almost automatically, a symbol of the city itself.
What Michelangelo had created became the ultimate symbol of resistance to the overbearing Medici.
The Republic wants that image.
It wants Florence to be David, but it wants the Medici to be seen as Goliath.
So what Michelangelo creates is this amazing piece of republican art.
It's to show Florence after the Medici, slaying the Medici.
That's what David's all about.
Even Michelangelo himself believed that Medici ambition threatened the future of the city of Florence.
It was a source of great sadness to him that the people he had known as a young man, the family around Lorenzo who had been so good to him and who he really knew very intimately from living in their household, later turned out to be contrary to the best interests of Florence as he saw it, and as a great many other people saw it.
After nine years in exile, Giovanni and Giulio de' Medici arrived in Rome.
They took their case to the highest level of the Church.
Pope Julius II was also from a powerful family.
Fortunately, he was sympathetic to the plight of the Medici.
Now, he helped them assemble an army of their own which headed back for Florence.
In the absence of the Medici, the city had embraced a new spirit of independence.
Against the wishes of the Church, the artists of Florence were venturing into dangerous new ground.
They had begun to procure corpses from the city's hospitals for private research.
A pioneer of this controversial method was the city's most talked-about personality Leonardo da Vinci.
The great master carefully studied the complexity of the human body.
No detail was overlooked.
Leonardo was famed throughout Europe as the greatest artist of his time.
But he knew there was another contender for his title Michelangelo.
And with the city under threat of invasion, the rival artists were brought face to face for an exercise in civic pride.
Leonardo and Michelangelo were each given a wall of the great council chamber to decorate with frescoes of famous Florentine battles.
It was a contest between two utterly contrasting characters.
Leonardo is the urbane, sophisticated, slightly dandyish figure.
Turns his hand to a bit of everything.
Michelangelo, on the other hand, is this untutored genius, very difficult, very fragile, very bad-tempered, and the clash is very, very interesting - two very, very different styles.
Leonardo conceived The Battle of Anghiari as a visceral and heroic action scene.
No one had attempted such frenzied violence before.
By contrast, Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina expressed panic on a very human scale.
The artist had caught the mood of an apprehensive city.
By 1512, thousands of heavily armed soldiers were inside Tuscany's borders and closing in on Florence.
They were shadowed by the Medici cousins, determined to reclaim their city.
The people of Florence prepared for the onslaught to come.
But they knew they were hopelessly outnumbered.
The leaders of the city called on their chief adviser a political genius who had guided the Republic since the expulsion of the Medici.
His name was Niccolò Machiavelli.
Machiavelli was a single-minded patriot, determined to defend the city from Medici dictatorship.
Now, he set to work.
Mobilising thousands of men from towns and villages all across Tuscany, Machiavelli assembled and equipped a national army.
The papal soldiers were carving a bloody path through Italy.
Soon, they reached Prato, a fortified town just outside Florence.
Witnesses recorded the devastation perpetrated in the name of the Medici.
"They broke through the wall and began to race through the town "where there was no longer any resistance "but only cries, violence, blood and killing".
Machiavelli's soldiers stood no chance.
The sack of Prato was a bloodbath.
Giovanni sent a progress report to his master, the pope.
"The capture ofPrato, so speedily and cruelly achieved, "although it has given me pain, "will at least serve as an example and a deterrent to the others".
The massacre of Prato had the intended effect.
Just a few miles away, in Florence, the leaders of the Republic surrendered.
Through violence and terror, the Medici had won control of their city, but not the loyalty of the people of Florence.
Before long, Giovanni received dramatic news.
His mentor and master, Pope Julius II, was dead.
In time-honoured tradition, the cardinals were all called to Rome.
It was their job to elect a new pope.
Cardinals would meet in the latrines to plot about who would be elected.
I think there's a lot of that on one hand favours to be exchanged under the table, plotting, networking but there is also a higher level, a more international level.
The Medici were definitely more welcomed as, potentially, new popes because of their already established international profile.
After a whole week of deliberation, the cardinals were still undecided.
But the reduction of their daily meal to a single unappetising dish finally focused their thoughts.
The most senior cardinal, Giovanni, would cast the deciding vote.
And it was his privilege to announce the winner.
From now on, Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici would be known as Papa Leone Decimo.
Pope Leo X.
Giovanni's accession to the papacy changed everything.
The city of Florence now welcomed back its former enemy with open arms.
We should not forget that this is a deeply Christian culture and any city would have easily forgotten any guilt of any type and forgiven the person, if this person would have occupied the position of the papacy.
It's a kind of prestige and an honour for the city.
For the first time in history, the leader of the Catholic Church had been born in Florence.
The pope soon capitalised on his new status to strengthen the position of the Medici family.
When the cardinal Giovanni de' Medici becomes pope, within a month his cousin Giulio is made Archbishop of Florence and in the autumn, he also becomes a cardinal.
So now you've got a Medici pope and you've got a Medici cardinal.
This is one of your examples of nepotism which all the Renaissance popes practised.
As part of the celebrations, Leo had a young boy painted gold from head to toe.
It was pure propaganda, implying the return of a golden age under the Medici.
The boy died shortly afterwards, poisoned by the gold paint on his skin.
His death went unnoticed and the papal celebration went on for days.
The pope occupies God's position on earth.
This is why popes are infallible.
This is why popes are above any earthly ruler.
This is why popes are supposed to approve, and therefore legitimise, any political authority.
It's a very, very important spiritual position which is above any earthly power.
Giovanni was a fun-lover.
He loved drinking, he loved hunting The moment he was made pope, he wrote a letter to one of his brothers, saying "God has given the papacy to us.
Let us enjoy it".
Pope Leo X hosted elaborate dinners night after night.
One ambassador sent a breathless letter home.
"The meal was exquisite.
"There was an endless succession of dishes, for we had 65 courses".
Giovanni de' Medici had risen higher than any of his ancestors.
And now, the new pope inherited a fresh artistic legacy inside the Vatican itself.
For four years, Michelangelo had toiled on a major commission in Rome.
The late Pope Julius II had commanded him to paintthe ceiling of the papal chapel inside the Vatican.
Butthe ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was 1000 metres square.
Michelangelo was convinced he was doomed to fail.
He was forced into painting the Sistine Chapel, he thought, as a kind of conspiracy against him by enemies who didn't want to see him succeed in sculpture.
And so it's a great irony that the man that I think we consider the greatest artist of all time, the greatest painter of all time, never actually thought of himself as a painter.
Michelangelo resented every minute he spent on the Cappella Sistina.
"This difficult position shoves my stomach up to hang beneath my chin.
"My loins have gone up into my belly and I cannot see where to put my feet.
"And with this non-stop dripping from above, "my brush makes my face a richly decorated flower".
He knew he was a genius.
He didn't suffer fools gladly.
The word that was most often used to describe him was 'terribilità', which is 'terribleness', in the literal sense of striking terror into other people.
Working in secret, a small group of long-suffering assistants helped Michelangelo with the most demanding work.
With fresco, you have anywhere from 12 to 24 hours to create your masterpiece.
The word 'fresco' means fresh and it refers to the plaster.
You're painting on fresh, i.
wet plaster.
And plaster, especially on a hot day in Italy, dries fairly quickly.
So it really is a race against the clock.
Fresco was regarded as the most difficult method of painting.
It was said that many painters could master painting in oil but only the very best could succeed at fresco.
After a number of years on the scaffold, he was a true master, a real virtuoso.
He was able to paint enormous scenes in a single day.
Michelangelo covered the ceiling with around 300 figures and stories from the Bible, among them the Flood, the origin of the stars and the creation of Adam.
Michelangelo's monumental figures were based on fragments of classical sculptures and inspired by the perfection and beauty of the ancient world.
Out of reluctance and frustration, Michelangelo had crafted brilliance, arguably, the greatest work of art of the Renaissance.
But could it shelter him from the wrath of the family he had deserted? Michelangelo was always very fearful for his political life.
He would take to his heels at the faintest whiff of gunpowder.
He was fearful of reprisals against him because he, of course, had found himself in with the regime that replaced the Medicis.
But the Medici saw power in Michelangelo's work and they were not in the business of squandering talent.
Now, they made him an offer he dared not refuse.
They ordered Michelangelo to build glorious tombs for their dead fathers, Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano de' Medici.
It was the most ambitious work in marble Michelangelo had undertaken since the David.
But this time, it was a sculpture honouring the Medici.
I think it would have been very difficult for him to refuse a commission like the Medici tombs.
Number one, he loved the family and he would have liked to help memorialise them in general.
Number two, these were friends of his, that is, the patrons were friends of his.
And number three, the man is the pope and it's not so easy to say no to the pope.
The authority of Pope Leo X was stamped across Florence.
Everyone knew that their future lay in his hands.
Even Machiavelli, who had once defended Florence against the Medici, now lobbied hard for a job inside Leo's regime.
Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was promptly thrown into prison as an anti-government conspirator and tortured in the worst way that the Florentine torturers could inflict upon him.
Machiavelli was exiled from the city in disgrace.
Trapped in his country villa, he pondered on the life he had lost.
"Caught in this way among the lice, I wipe the mould from my brain "and release my feeling of being ill-treated by fate".
With time on his hands, Machiavelli began writing a handbook for aspiring dictators.
"Since love and fear can hardly exist together, "if we must choose between them, "it is far safer to be feared than loved".
Machiavelli called his book The Prince.
In it, he described a world in which politics was devoid of morality.
Machiavelli's political theory is the first time a thinker separates ethics from politics.
And this is something that had never happened before.
According to Machiavelli, the prince should be a cynical ruler, acting in terms of reason of state.
He's the first one to acknowledge the non-ideal nature of politics, which was exactly the case in his own time.
Il Principe was inspired by, and dedicated to, the Medici.
But Machiavelli's plan backfired.
The Medici refused to employ him.
Instead, Machiavelli's name became a byword for ruthless and cynical politics.
And nowhere was the struggle for power more cut-throat than inside the Vatican.
In 1516, a group of cardinals conspired to commit the ultimate crime the assassination of the pope.
But Leo had been warned of the conspiracy to kill him and he would have the conspirators killed instead.
Now, the Medici cousins took steps to secure the loyalty of those around them.
It's putting people in positions of power and authority who are related to the family, so, brothers, as well as cousins, sons, through marriage It's a complete infiltration.
It's a classic Mafia move.
It's to take over every single sphere, from top to bottom, of how the papacy was run.
The Medici are good at this, they have a track record.
It's precisely what they do with the papacy.
Leo created hundreds of new jobs in the Vatican and sold them to those he could trust.
And he needed the money.
Because, within just one year of his extravagant lifestyle, he had emptied the papal coffers.
Soon, Leo X owed money to every bank in Rome.
Behind the scenes, Giulio was pawning the papal jewels.
So Leo turned to a source of income only available to the pope himself the sale offorgiveness.
He started selling what are called papal indulgences.
These are basically pieces of paper which give you remission from sins.
So if you've been naughty in some respect, the pope would sell you an indulgence which would remit your sins, it would cleanse your sins.
Leo wasn't the first pope to sell indulgences but he sold them on an unparalleled scale.
And his tariff was affordable to even the poorest man.
Across Europe, Leo found a ready market because an indulgence could mean freedom from an eternity in hell.
The Church created the figure of the itinerant preacher of indulgences, which would stop in the main piazzas of cities and towns and preach for a specific indulgency.
And if people would buy an indulgency, they were released a receipt.
The sale of salvation was a goldmine for the pope.
An indulgence could even be bought on behalf of the dead, so that their soul might be sped on its journey to heaven.
Profits from the sale of absolution were lifting Pope Leo out of debt.
But for one man, a German monk named Martin Luther, they were a step too far.
Luther was absolutely horrified by what the Church was doing and for him it symbolised everything that was corrupt and decadent about the Catholic Church.
In 1517, Martin Luther published an incendiary manifesto for change.
Exploiting the latest technology, it was printed, reprinted, circulated and translated.
No idea had ever travelled so far and so fast.
Luther's Ninety-five Theses was an indictment on the sale of salvation and a direct attack on the pope.
"The pope is richer than Croesus.
"He would do better to sell St Peter's and give the money to the poor.
"When money clinks in the money chest, it can only increase greed and avarice.
"Those who believe they can be certain of salvation "because they have bought indulgences "will be eternally damned".
No one had ever dared use such outspoken language against the might of the Catholic Church.
It was the start of a revolution.
Luther was trying to reform the Church, not destroy it.
But in the process, things snowballed and went completely out of control.
Before long, Luther's manifesto made its way back to Leo.
But the complaints of a petulant monk mattered little to Pope Leo X.
If you were to be Roman pope 'umbilicus mundi', the navel of the world the most powerful earthly organisation, with money flowing through your treasury like water through fountains an Augustinian monk in Wittenberg is nothing.
And after all, Germany was the land of the barbarians - 'i barbari' - the land of the Gothic style, as opposed to the Renaissance.
So why care about those primitives? Leo drew up a standard document designed to silence heretics.
The Bull of Excommunication condemned Luther to hell.
The pope is able to decide for the redemption of every human being.
So, being excommunicated by a pope implies being denied access to heaven.
And if you are a Christian, I think you care a lot about that.
But Luther would not accept his punishment and his refusal to repent triggered a battle for the soul of Europe.
The Protestant Reformation was a revolution.
It's one of the most important things that happens in the Renaissance and it split the Church in two.
And we still live with that division between Catholic and Protestant.
It's right with us today and it starts back in that period between Luther and Leo.
But the pope would not live to fight his battle with Luther.
In 1521, Leo X suddenly died.
The high-rolling Medici pontiff had been killed by a simple winter chill.
His cousin Giulio was left to deal with the mounting problem.
And within two years, Giulio de' Medici was crowned Pope Clement VII.
The new pope inherited a continent in crisis.
The fallout from Luther's Reformation now brought furious armies to the gates of Rome itself.
Rome was a city of pilgrims, was the city where St Peter was buried, was the seat of the pope.
No one would have ever imagined, in Western Christianity, that anyone would have dared to consider pillaging and destroying Rome.
It was simply 'città sacra' - a sacred city.
And you don't sack a sacred city.
But to the men surrounding Rome, there was nothing that remained sacred about the Catholic Church.
Many were followers of Luther, now fuelled by deep religious hatred.
Most of the soldiers were of German origin and nationality, therefore Lutherans.
So they considered Rome as the new Babylon, the new city of sin, which is the seat of the Antichrist.
In fear of his life, Clement fled to the safety of the Castel Sant'Angelo.
And his fears were justified.
For the next day, Rome was torn apart without mercy.
They break in and they ravage the city.
They rape, they hold people to ransom, they destroy buildings, they violate sacred buildings And they keep Clement VII caged in to his Castel Sant'Angelo.
About 8000 people died on the first day.
This was just massacre on an absolutely grand scale.
Everything was destroyed.
Doors were ripped off their hinges, shops were looted, women were raped, people were casually mutilated and tortured.
It was absolutely horrific.
The sack of Rome is probably one of the blackest moments of the Renaissance.
After seven months under siege, Clement perfected his plan for escape.
Changing his robes for rags, he had the papal jewels removed from their settings and all the gold melted down.
With his treasures sewn into his clothes, Clement bribed his way out of Rome and headed for the safety of Florence.
But news travelled faster than the pope.
Inspired by reports from Rome, enemies of the Medici in Florence were already running riot.
They attack what symbolises that regime.
And they attack the buildings, which are the embodiments of that authority.
So, for the Medici supporters in Florence, that week was a week of total blind fury.
The rioters struck without discrimination.
It was a bench hurled from City Hall that did the damage to Michelangelo's David, the city's greatest symbol, all in defiance of the Medici.
In the wake of the chaos, Pope Clement VII stood poised to attack Florence.
Trapped inside the church of San Lorenzo, Michelangelo cowered beneath the tombs he had built for the Medici cousins.
"I hid in a tiny cell, entombed like the dead Medici above, "though hiding from a live one".
But the beleaguered city held one trump card.
Captive inside Florence was the last legitimate heir to the Medici line.
Clement VII's niece was 11 years old.
Her name was Catherine de' Medici.
Clementfamously called her "my pearl beyond price", but he knew precisely what she was worth to the Medici family.
Unfortunately for him, so did the people of Florence.
They threatened to throw Catherine into a soldiers' brothel unless Clement agreed to a truce.
And Clement called off his troops, for he had plans for Catherine de' Medici.
Clement soon capitalised on Catherine's survival.
Within a few years, he married her off to the son of the French king.
She was only 14.
The unrest which her uncles had unleashed now travelled with her.
Under the reign of Queen Catherine de' Medici, religious hate would soon infect France as well.
Back in Rome, Clement VII was now living on borrowed time.
Desperate to make one last grand gesture, he summoned the man he'd grown up with Michelangelo.
A massive fresco inside the Vatican would mark the completion of Michelangelo's work forthe Medici popes.
But it would also reflect his mood towards his patrons.
Over the altar of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose to portray the Last Judgment.
The magnificent fresco was a product of the agonies of its time.
This is one of the most tragic periods for the history of Europe.
So art could not be any more a mere representation of natural beauty, as it had been in the Renaissance, because of the dramatic events which were typical of that time period.
The Last Judgment commission, to Michelangelo, probably expresses a lot of this feeling of oppression and anxiety which was typical of the time.
Those are not happy people.
You see those bodies are twisted and suffering and You cannot paint people who are happy and serene and smiling with beautiful landscapes in the background.
It's like the transition from Impressionism to Expressionism.
Impressionism is serenity, flowers, beauty, bucolic nature.
Expressionism is dramatic.
Expressionism is unbearably violent as an art.
But Clement VII would not live to see the great work finished.
In 1534, exhausted by the turmoil of his reign, Giulio de' Medici died.
It was the end ofan era.
The corrupt, disastrous reign of the Medici popes was over.
But a single act of redemption would herald a magnificent new era for the Medici dynasty.
Future generations would take the Renaissance beyond the realm of art and sculpture and change man's understanding of the universe forever.