• "The Skull and Hair of Alessandro de' Medici: Reading Racial Signs in Historical Perspective."

    Mary Gallucci (see profile)
    CLCS Renaissance and Early Modern, LLC Medieval and Renaissance Italian, LLC Shakespeare, TC Race and Ethnicity Studies
    Sixteenth century, Art, History, Race, Ethnicity, Renaissance--Study and teaching, Art and science
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    \"The Renaissance and New Epistemologies: Artifacts Pageant.\"
    Conf. Org.:
    New England Renaissance Conference at Renaissance Society of America
    Conf. Loc.:
    Conf. Date:
    March 31-April 2, 2016
    archaology, early modern Europe, epistemology, 16th century, Art history, Race/ethnicity, Renaissance studies, Science and art
    Permanent URL:
    In this essay I discuss the racial formations of Alessandro de’ Medici, first duke of Florence. These formations derive from different sources: verbal descriptions, portraiture, and the material evidence of Alessandro’s remains. I examine whether a painted “description” tallies with a verbal one, considering the variety of terms used to describe and display skin tones. I survey the ways that particular features, such as skin and hair texture, were interpreted in the centuries since the assassination of Alessandro de’ Medici (1537). The “verities” of racial difference took a considerable leap forward in the nineteenth century, when practitioners of phrenology and students of “primitive peoples” established the division of humans into specific categories: Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid, etc. Alessandro’s skeleton was exhumed and found to bear traces—in his hair and skull—of a “damaging mongrel” type. That skull has since been re-interpreted, casting doubt about the ideology and the epistemology of race.
    Work in progress. Images from exhumation; descriptions from diverse chronicles and histories; the work of so-called forensic anthropologist Gaetano Pieraccini (follower of criminologist/eugenicist Cesare Lombroso)--all contribute to a study of the construction and invention of racial categories.
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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