Alexander the Great is a figure worth imitating. At the age of twenty he violently inherited his father’s Macedonian–and Greek–kingdom. Philip II of Macedon was assassinated by a estranged and jealous Royal Guardsman named Pausanias at the theater in Vergina, the royal capital of Macedonia, during a pan-Hellenic festival. Alexander and Philip’s son-in-law, another Alexander called Alexander of Epirus, walked at a respectful distance behind their royal father. Philip’s son then watched in horror as blood gushed from a fatal wound struck with a dagger between his ribs. It is entirely possible that Alexander, son of Philip, was close enough to feel the blood spray onto his own immaculate white garment. On that fateful October day in 336 B.C., Alexander inherited a now unstable alliance of Macedonians and Greeks whose tenuous agreement was to exact revenge upon Persia for their destruction and slaughter of Greek landmarks and citizens more than a century and a half before (Persian Wars 491-479 B.C.E.).
More than eighteen-hundred years later on Sunday, 26 April 1478, Giuliano de’ Medici, Lorenzo de’ Medici’s younger brother was stabbed no less than 19 times during High Mass in the Duomo cathedral in Florence. Lorenzo barely escaped with his life.1 The assassination attempt for both Medici brothers was carried out by a rival Florentine family, the Pazzi for many complicated reasons, but all supporters of the Medici believed no reason could be so important as to plan such a sacrilege for the end of Holy Easter week, especially during Mass. Lorenzo was now the sole head of the Medici family, just as Alexander was left as the most promising heir to Macedon. Lorenzo would, like Alexander, order the execution of the conspirators of their family members with brutal alacrity. Both men, even though separated by a gulf of time, dealt impressively with their sad lot. Both men also demonstrated their propensities for swift, deft political machinations during a time of strife. These men were also patrons of the arts, lovers of virtue and glory, and quite accomplished scholars in their own time. This essay, however, will not deal with how these men surmounted their brutal political and social realities, but instead we will focus on Lorenzo’s creation of a “patronage garden,” most likely modeled on the Garden of the Nymphs at Mieza.
These aforementioned events came after Alexander’s famous education by Aristotle at Mieza, where there was a beautiful garden of the Nymphs, ubiquitously dotted with great stone benches, streams, trees, caves, and waterfalls. Why, then, mention their later violent struggles? Writing history should be concerned more with linking the seemingly unconnected realities of individuals or peoples and less with the strict historiographic relaying of facts. Yes, there is a method to writing history–comparing who said what, when, and how with another’s who, what, why, and how–but to have a powerful, relevant, and lasting effect on readers, one who sets out to write history should be a storyteller. Stories are our primary conduit to understanding what people experienced at any given point in history. An effective historian should be a storyteller first and a historiographer second, even though when writing, the process is often reversed. Both Alexander and Lorenzo, then, had to contend with powerful plots and violent circumstances. They were able to do this, one may argue, because they understood the world in which they lived, and familiarized themselves with what people really valued, which during this time period was money, power, and art. Unfortunately, these values have acquired a negative stigma in recent times, but during the early and high Renaissance (and especially in Florence), these values were highly esteemed. Take the words of historian Gene A. Brucker, for proof: “Two important attributes of this social order were the critical importance of wealth as a determinant of status, and the survival, from the city’s medieval past, of a corporate structure and ethos.”2 This belief is at the heart of patronage, for being a patron meant striking a bargain between a paying and aspiring connoisseur and a up and coming artisan. It was more than just a supply and demand relationship, but a delicate and machinated dance–whose agenda did the agreement serve, for whom was it painted or sculpted, and what did it depict (and for what reasons)?
Alexander’s education at Mieza by Aristotle was most likely a very influential factor in Lorenzo’s purchasing of a small plot of land near the monastery of San Marco. Like Alexander, Lorenzo had grown up taught to appreciate the liberal arts, for they served a man well in good times and bad. Furthermore, the liberal arts supported balance and encouraged free-thinking, and multi-subject intimation. Lorenzo’s “Renaissance Garden” was purchased sometime between 1460-1470, and was a “walled plot fringed with cypress trees.”3 This garden saw the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and later, Michelangelo. They painted, sculpted, read, and wrote under the boughs of the cypress trees while they were closely and congenially observed by Lorenzo himself, who was astounded by their technical prowess. The idea behind this garden was that it be an oasis, a sanctuary, and an outside botteghe (“workshop”) for promising artists to hone their skills. Furthermore, it was a political move by Lorenzo, who desired to gather to himself all of these artists and “brand” them with his family name. Lorenzo began what would later be an elite-only trend: the patronage and commissioning of civic and religious art. During the 1470’s, 80’s and early 90’s, however, “art was not then the exclusive province of an ultra-rarefied elite but was thoroughly entwined in the religious, economic, and civic life of the community. Florentines were all intensely chauvinistic and took understandable pride in their unparalleled cultural genius.”4 Lorenzo, like when Alexander had become as king of Macedon and Greece (and later much, much more), was looked up to and recognized as a connoisseur and adviser for art aficionados in Florence and Europe. Lorenzo’s “Renaissance Mieza” faithfully represented Alexander’s famous education locale. Why? This was the time when, as I mentioned in my last article, Italy revived its classical past and ushered in the arcane knowledge of both their Roman ancestors and Greeks instead of focusing on mercenary warfare and petty internecine squabbles.
In conclusion, Lorenzo’s “Renaissance Mieza” was the first concrete and civic example that some ruling power in Italy wanted to usher in the “Golden Age” of Greece and Rome to banish to darkness of the Bubonic Plague and medieval struggles. One of Michelangelo’s tutors and a famous and accomplished scholar of Lorenzo’s day, Marsilio Ficino said of this time that “This is an age of gold, which has brought back to life the almost extinguished liberal disciplines of poetry, eloquence, painting, architecture, sculpture, music, and singing to the Orphic Lyre. And all this at Florence!”5 Here is the proof that these people were self-aware that they were bringing in a new age where this once esoteric and Church prohibited (for the most part) knowledge became readily available, streaming forth from Lorenzo’s garden. Even though Renaissance scholars may debate the heavy, singular significance of Lorenzo’s garden, one cannot deny that it was the first of many new efforts to remember the past to improve the present. Surely that Lorenzo created a peripatetic, natural school in his beloved Florence as an imitation of Aristotle’s “walking shows us in modernity that finding the relevance of a seemingly irrelevant and unconnected chain of events or relationship between two individuals separated by time is not improbable, nor unimportant.
 Unger, Miles J. Il Maginifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Simon and Schuster Publishing. (New York, 2008): page 313.
 Brucker, Gene A. Renaissance Florence. University of California Press. (Los Angeles, 1969): page 90.
 Unger, page 381.
 Unger, page 384.
 Unger, page 381.