September 22, 2013

Blue-Blooded Black Man In Renaissance Europe - Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence

                                              Angelo Bronzino (between 1555 and 1565)

Alessandro de' Medici, Duke - and ruler - of Florence from 1530 until 1537 is a seldom-mentioned historical figure I have always been intrigued by. Nicknamed Il Moro by his contemporaries, Alessandro (1510-1537), is said by many historians to have been the product of a hookup between Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici - who later became Pope Clement VII - and an African servant of the powerful family's household named Simonetta. In 1536, he married Margarethe von Habsburg, daughter of Karl V von Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor. Alessandro, who fathered 3 children that we know of (Giulia de' Medici, Giulio de' Medici, Porzia de' Medici) by his mistress Taddea Malespina, died in Florence at the hands of a distant cousin in 1537.

There are controversies as to Il Moro's ("The Moor", a moniker used in some parts of Europe to refer to a person of color) provenance but that is to be expected given the fact that the Medici dynasty is the most influential family in the history of the Renaissance having given their patronage through 300 years of rule, to such artistic uber-giants and movers and shakers as Michelangelo, Botticelli and Leonardo Da Vinci to name a few. The snooty, oft race conscious and panties-in-a-bunch western art establishment doesn't seem to enjoy broaching the subject that a scion of one of the most influential and powerful families in European history - in particular with respect to Renaissance art - was black. Indeed, when there have been exhibits of Alessandro's portraits in the USA (Philadelphia Museum until Feb. 13, 2005) as well as abroad, Il Moro's African ancestry is seldom mentioned. There is also the little detail that some of Europe's most titled families - including two branches of the Hapsburgs - descended from Alessandro's children.

Talk about inconvenient truths.

Jacopo Carrucci
                                                               Jacopo Pontormo c.1534-1535
Jacopo Pontormo c.1535

Giorgio Vasari 1534
Jacopo Pontormo, c. 1550
Cristofano dell'Altissimo between 1511-1537
Giorgio Vasari (1555 - 1562)
Alessandro de' Medici's Wiki


  1. Didn't know this very interesting bit of history... Thank you Lunatica Desnuda!

  2. You're welcome A! Seems like Alessandro de' Medici continues to be a 'dirty little secret' in the year 2013, almost 500 after his death.