Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 22: Florence, Part 2

August 1, 2022


The Medici Family

The Medici family dominated the political and financial landscape of Renaissance-era Florence.

Even today, you can see the Medici family's coat of arms scattered throughout the city.

The emblem, resembling a ladybug, features lilies and six round balls shaped like pills, which is believed to be a reference to the family's origins in pharmacy or medicine.

 The name "Medici" itself is similar to the Latin words "medicina" (medicine or medical art) and "medicus" (physician), which lends credence to this theory.

In Italian, a physician is "medico" (plural: "medici"), and medicine is "medicina."

In English, the field of medicine, particularly internal medicine, is referred to as "medicine."

The patron saints of the Medici family and Florence are the two martyr physician brothers, Saints Cosmas and Damian.

They were famous for performing leg transplants in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Many members of the Medici family, including Cosimo, derived their names from Saint Cosmas.

According to Christian legend, the two brothers provided medical care without charge and led many to convert to Christianity.

However, during the early 4th century, they were beheaded as part of the Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Today, they are revered not only in the Medici family and Florence but also as the patron saints of medicine, physicians, and pharmacists worldwide.

By the way, "surgery" is called "surgery" because, until the Middle Ages, surgery was not considered a part of a physician's work, and it wasn't grouped with "medicine."

The inclusion of surgery within the realm of medicine is a relatively recent development, beginning in the 19th century.

Originally, "medicine" referred to internal medicine, but as other medical fields like surgery were added, the term "internal medicine" came into use to specify the field.

The six round marks in the Medici family coat of arms are also associated with a theory that they represent weights on a balance scale, used by money changers, due to the family's business in banking and money exchange, which made them the wealthiest family in Florence.

The Medici family played a pivotal role as patrons of the Renaissance, supporting artists like a 13-year-old Michelangelo (who would later create "David"), Raphael (who painted masterpieces like "The School of Athens"), Filippo Brunelleschi (who completed the dome of the Florence Cathedral), and Filippo Lippi (a painter known for "The Coronation of the Virgin" despite a scandalous life involving eloping with a nun).

In essence, the Medici family were the Renaissance's foremost protectors and patrons.