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Art of decapitation: Medici power, prestige, and propaganda

Kirk, Sarah
The martyrdom of the patron saint of Florence, Saint John the Baptist, ensured that a rhetoric of decapitation existed within the city prior even to the establishment of an oligarchic republic in 1382 and the subsequent rise of the Medici family. As the city was drawn into war in the early 1400s, the rhetoric of decapitation expanded beyond a religious sense and came to incorporate imagery of David as the Giant-Slayer within a civic understanding. The Medici family, the preeminent power of Florentine politics and Italian Renaissance art patronage, sought through artistic commissions to appropriate the rhetoric of decapitation that existed in Florence to portray themselves as symbols of Florentine liberty and to justify their power. As the rhetoric associated with decapitation imagery within Florence shifted, the Medici began to use capital punishment to further assert their power. Due to the integration of the Medici within Florence and with the rhetoric of decapitation, they were able to control the public reception of capital punishment and therefore continue the justification of their rule as Florence shifted away from a republic and to a principality.