• Mistaken Identities?: Alessandro de’ Medici and the Question of “Race”

    Mary Gallucci (see profile)
    CLCS Renaissance and Early Modern, LLC Medieval and Renaissance Italian, LLC Shakespeare, TC Race and Ethnicity Studies
    Sixteenth century, Italy, Area studies, Race, Ethnicity, Southern Europe, Mediterranean Region
    Item Type:
    Art history, cultural history, european integration, florence, whiteness, 16th century, Italian studies, Race/ethnicity, Southern Europe and Mediterranean, Visual culture
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    a b s t r ac t Alessandro de’ Medici’s life and its representation reveal important beliefs about family, politics, and genealogy during the Italian Renaissance. Duke Alessandro’s government marked the end of the Florentine Republic and the beginning of hereditary rule. Many scholars interpret Alessandro’s assassination as a fitting end to the tyrannical usurpation of Florentine liberty. This moral and political interpretation, championed by supporters of Italian unification and cherished by writers from the Romantic period until this day, has dominated assessments of Alessandro’s life and rule. The fact that he was illegitimate has given rise to many accounts of his origins and to the related controversies over the possibility that his mother was a peasant or a slave. The slave controversy admits a further question: was his mother’s background North African? Or Southern (i.e., sub-Saharan) African? Such arguments assume that slaves are black and that blacks are a clearly defined group. The history of Alessandro de’ Medici is inseparable from claims made for liberal society against tyranny, from evolving concepts of race, and from ideas of European cultural superiority over Africa. This essay studies images, both written and visual, of Alessandro de’ Medici with a focus on race and on the changing significance of traits now associated with ideologies of ethnicity and nationhood.
    This article investigates how the discourse of European national identity emerged by means of suppressing contact and exchange with the southern Mediterranean and north Africa. It discusses the invention of racial categories from the late sixteenth-century until the present. Practitioners of the (pseudo-)disciplines of physiognomy, phrenology, eugenics, and scientific racism each considered the case of Alessandro de' Medici's racial make-up.
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    6 years ago
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