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.


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pp. 40-81
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