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In 1469 Lorenzo de Medici (1449-92) became unofficial ruler of Florence, with his brother Giuliano. The Medici family were the greatest financiers in Europe. They were educated in the classics and supported new artists and their ideas. Michelangelo's first commissions came from Lorenzo de Medici, and it was Medici money that attracted Leonardo da Vinci to the city. Although books were very expensive, Lorenzo was able to collect together a great private library in Florence. In 1571 it was refounded as a public library in a building designed by Michelangelo.

At this time Italy was divided into small states. Many of them were large cities, such as Florence, Venice and Rome. Others were ducal courts such as Mantua, Urbino and Ferrara. Most of these states were ruled by families who had grown rich on trade and commerce in the late Middle Ages. Under Lorenzo's influence, Florence became one of the most beautiful and prosperous cities in Italy, as well as a centre of the Renaissance. Lorenzo had a large art collection of his own and, through his writings, helped to make the form of Italian spoken in Florence into the language of the whole country. Florentine Italian is still the standard today.

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