Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ALESSANDRO DE MEDICI: THE DUKE OF FLORENCE AND THE FIRST BLACK HEAD OF STATE IN THE MODERN WESTERN WORLD

Alessandro de' Medici (July 22, 1510 – January 6, 1537) also called "il Moro" ("the Moor"), was a gifted soldier, skillful politician, Duke of Penne and also the first man in the history of Italy to rule as the Duke of Florence. Alessandro who was an illegitimate son of Cardinal Giulio de' Medici who later became Pope Clement VII of the Holy Catholic Church of Rome and an African slave named Simonetta da Collavechio, and was the first black (African Florentine) ruled Florence from 1530 until 1537. Though illegitimate, he was the last member of the "senior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence and the first to be a hereditary duke. The ethnic make up of this Medici Prince makes him the first black head of state in the modern western world.
Alessandro De Medici, also called “Il Moro” (“The Moor”), was the first African duke of Florence and the last member of the Medicis to rule. Pained by Agnolo Bronzino in 1550`s.

 He was the patron of some of the leading artists of the era and is one of the two Medici princes whose remains are buried in the famous tomb by Michaelangelo. Alessandro was assassinated by his distant cousin Lorenzino de' Medici, nicknamed "Lorenzaccio" ("bad Lorenzo"). Alessandro`s family history is also full subject in the new Fox and Starz TV series Da Vinci's Demons created by  David S. Goyer and starring om Riley, Laura Haddock et al. The greater majority of the noble houses of Italy can today trace their ancestry back to Alessandro de Medici.
 Alessandro had two children Giulio and Giulia with his mistress Taddea Malespina and through them the majority of the Italian noble houses are descended. There are many portraits of the Duke including Cristofano dell'Altissimo's (1525–1605) painting from the Giovio Series. Perhaps the most striking is Agnolo Bronzino’s “Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici,” painted in the 1550s. But what Bronzino’s small painting shows us is that he was also clearly half-black, the son of a slave in the pope’s household, perhaps — other paintings of Alessandro usually cover his hair and lighten his complexion, but Bronzino’s near-photographic finish leaves little doubt about his mixed-race heritage.
A portrait of Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence and the first black head of state in the modern western world. Painted by Cristofano dell'Altissimo (1525–1605) in between 1511 & 1537

 Despite the many portraits of this 16th century Italian Renaissance figure, his African heritage is rarely mentioned. The greater majority of the noble houses of Italy can today trace their ancestry back to Alessandro de Medici.
 In a recent exhibition on Italian Renaissance art that was on display at the Philadelphia Museum in Feb. 13, 2005, in which the focal work was a portrait of Alessandro de' Medici, the ethnic ancestry of the prince was ignored. The unique opportunity that this small, but important show might have offered to the national conversation on race in United States in particular and the world general was never to be realized.
Rather in a shameful and the only reference to the Duke's color in the entire 173-page catalogue of the Philadelphia exhibit, Karl Strehlke, the curator and organizer writes, "Some scholars have claimed that Alessandro's mother was a North African slave. This cannot be confirmed, however, and the text of a letter that she wrote to her son in 1529 suggests that she was an Italian peasant from Lazio." Such a statement can only be described as disingenuous.
Based on what Lorenzino de' Medici, Alessandro's kinsman, wrote about her in his Aplogoia, all scholars who have dealt with the subject accept that the servant whom he cites as the Duke's mother, is one and the same Simunetta from Collavecchio in the province of Lazio. Besides her being specifically identified as a "slave" by the historians Bernardo Segni and Giovanni Cambi, both contemporaries of the Duke's, Cardinal Salviati, a relation of Alessandro's, describes this woman as "una villisima schiava." And, in point of fact, the question of identity that Lorenzino de' Medici does raise, and Segni repeats, is not whether Simunetta was Alessandro's mother, but whether the "mule driver" she subsequently married was Alessandro's father instead of one or the other of two candidates still attributed with his paternity.
As Christopher Hare in his work, Romance of a Medici Warrior, explains, "[Alessandro] was reported to be the son of the late Lorenzo dei Medici, Duke of Urbino, but the affection shown him by Clement VII, gave strength to the general opinion that the Pope was his father. In any case his mother was a mulatto slave, and Alessandro had the dark skin, thick lips and curly hair of a Negro."
 But as it happens to all people with black ancestry, the more you try to hid their blackness the more history and science reveals the truth through the sand of time.
Alessando de' Medici was born in Florence in 1510, to a black serving woman in the Medici household who, after her subsequent marriage to a muleteer, is simply referred to in existing documents as Simonetta da Collavechio. Historians today are convinced that Alessandro was fathered by the seventeen year old Cardinal Giulio de Medici who later became Pope Clement VII. Cardinal Giulio was the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The nickname (il Moro) is said to derive from his features (Hibbert 1999: 236)
When Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, the Florentines took advantage of the turmoil in Italy to reinstall the Republic; both Alessandro and Ippolito fled, along with the rest of the Medici and their main supporters, including the Pope's regent, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, with the exception of the eight-year-old Catherine de' Medici, who was left behind. Michelangelo, then occupied in creating a funerary chapel for the Medici, initially took charge of building fortifications around Florence in support of the Republic; he later temporarily fled the city. Clement eventually made his peace with the Emperor, and with the support of Imperial troops, the Republic was overwhelmed after a lengthy siege, and the Medici were restored to power in the summer of 1530. Clement assigned Florence to nineteen-year-old Alessandro, who had been made a duke, an appointment that was purchased from Charles. He arrived in Florence to take up his rule on July 5, 1531, and was made hereditary Duke of Florence 9 months later by the Emperor (for Tuscany lay outside the Papal States), thereby signalling the end of the Republic (Hibbert 1999: 250–252; and Schevill 1936: 482, 513–514).
His many enemies among the exiles declared that his rule was harsh, depraved and incompetent, an assessment debated by later historians. One relic of his rule sometimes pointed out as a symbol of Medici oppression is the massive Fortezza da Basso, today the largest historical monument of Florence. In 1535 the Florentine opposition sent his cousin Ippolito to appeal to Charles V against some actions of the Duke, but Ippolito died en route; rumors were spread that he had been poisoned at Alessandro's orders (Hibbert 1999: 254).
In a late replay of the kind of medieval civil politics that had long revolved around pope and emperor, commune and lord, the Emperor supported Alessandro against the republicans. In 1536, he married his natural daughter Margaret of Austria to Alessandro. For his own inclinations, Alessandro seems to have remained faithful to one mistress, Taddea Malaspina, who bore his only children Giulio de' Medici (c. 1540-1600), who also had illegitimate issue, and Giulia de' Medici, who married her cousin Bernardetto de' Medici, Signore di Ottaiano, and had issue.
Portrait of Maria Salviati de'Medici, detail (Giulia de'Medici), c. 1539 daughter of Alessandro de` Medici by Pontormo the artista. Curator's comment: "The little girl holding her hand here is probably Giulia, a Medici relative who was left in Maria's care after the murder of the child's father, Duke Alessandro de' Medici (1511-1537). Because Alessandro was born of a liaison between a Medici cardinal and a servant who, tradition has it, was African, this formal portrait may be the first of a girl of African ancestry in European art."

Four years later his distant cousin Lorenzino de' Medici, nicknamed "Lorenzaccio" ("bad Lorenzo"), assassinated him. (This event is the subject of Alfred de Musset's play "Lorenzaccio.") Lorenzino entrapped Alessandro through the ruse of a promised arranged sexual encounter with Lorenzino's sister Laudomia, a beautiful widow. For fear of starting an uprising if news of his death got out, Medici officials wrapped Alessandro's corpse in a carpet and secretly carried it to the cemetery of San Lorenzo, where it was hurriedly buried.
In Valladolid (Spain), where the imperial court of Charles V was established, a solemn funeral was celebrated.
Lorenzino, in a declaration published later, said that he had killed Alessandro for the sake of the republic. When the anti-Medici faction failed to rise, Lorenzino fled to Venice, where he was killed in 1548. The Medici supporters (called "Palleschi" from the balls on the Medici arms) ensured that power then passed to Cosimo I de' Medici, the first of the "junior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence.
Alessandro was survived by two natural children of Taddea's: a son, Giulio (aged four at the time of his father's death) married to Lucrezia Gaetani, and a daughter, Giulia married firstly to Francesco Cantelmo, the Count of Alvito and the Duke of Popoli and then Bernadetto de' Medici, prince of Ottaiano.

The greater majority of the noble houses of Italy can today trace their ancestry back to Alessandro de Medici. And, as shown in the two lines of descent to the Hapsburgs drawn up below, so can a number of other princely families of Europe:

Giulio de Medici, (Allessandro's son) Knight Commander of the Gallery of St. Stephen m. Lucrezia, Countess Gaetani

Cosimo de Medici (illegitimate) m. Lucrezia (II), Countess Gaetani

Angelica de Medici m. Gianpetro, Count Altemps
 
Maria Christinadella Rovere Coat of ArmsMaria Cristina, Countess Altemps m. 1646 Ipollito, Duke Lante della Rovere

Antonio, Duke Lante m. 1682 Angelique, Princesse de La Tremouille

Marie Anne Lante m. Jean Baptiste, Duke of Croy Havre

Louis, Duke of Croy Havre m. 1736 Marie Louise, Princess of Montmorency Luxembourg

Joseph, Duke of Croy Havre m. 1762 Adelaide, Princess of Croy Solre

Adelaide, Duchess of Croy Havre m. 1788 Emanuel, Prince of Croy Solre

Constance, Princess of Croy Solre m. 1810 Ferdinand, Duke of Croy

Augusta, Duchess of Croy m. 1836 Alfred, Prince of Salm Salm

Alfred, Prince of Salm Salm m. 1869 Rosa, Countess Lutzow

Emanuel, Prince of Salm Salm m. 1902 Christina von Hapsburg, Archduchess of Austria

Rosemary, Princess of Salm Salm m. 1926 Hubert Salvator von Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF ALESSANDRO'S DESCENT:
Joseph, Duke of Croy Havre m. 1762 Adelaide, Princess of Croy Solre

Amalie, Duchess of Croy Havre m. 1790 Charles, Marquis of Conflans

Amalie de Conflans m. 1823 Eugene, Prince of Ligne

Henri, Prince of Ligne m. 1851 Marguerite, Countess of Talleyrand Perigord
 
The MedicisThe MedicisErnest Louis, Prince of Ligne m. 1887 Diane Marchioness of Cosse Brissac

Eugene, Prince of Ligne m. 1917 Phillipine, Princess Noailles

Yolanda, Princess of Ligne m. 1950 Karl von Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria
 
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF ALESSANDRO'S DESCENT:

Giulio de Medici, Knight Commander of the Gallery of St. Stephen m. Lucrezia, Countess Gaetani

Cosimo de Medici (illegitimate) m. Lucrezia, Countess Gaetani

Angelica de Medici m. Gianpetro, Count Altemps

Maria Cristina, Countess Altemps m. 1646 Ipollito, Duke Lante della Rovere

Antonio, Duke Lante m. 1682 Angelique, Princesse de La Tremouille

Luigi, Duke Lante m. Angela, Princess Vaini

Fillipo, Duke Lante m. Faustina, Marchioness Caprianca

Maria Christina Lante m. Averado, Duke Salviati

Anna Maria Salviati m. Marcantonio , Prince Borghese

Camillo, Prince Borghese m. 1803 Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's Sister

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF ALESSANDRO'S DESCENT:

Marie Anne Lante m. Jean Baptiste, Duke of Croy Havre

Adelaide, Croy Havre m. Emanuel, Prince of Croy Solre

Constance, Princess of Croy Solre m. 1810 Ferdinand of Croy Solre

Juste Marie, Prince of Croy m. 1854 Marie, Countess Ursel

Charles, Prince of Croy m. 1896 Matilda, Countess Robiano

Marie Imaculee m. 1926 Thiery, count of Limburg Stirum

Evrard, Count of Limburg Stirum m. 1957 Helen, Princess of France daughter of the Count of Paris

source:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/medici.html

THE BLURRED RACIAL LINES OF FAMOUS FAMILIES
Jan 14,2005
                                                   by Mario de Valdes y Cocom

In a current exhibition on Italian Renaissance art that is on display at the Philadelphia Museum until Feb. 13, 2005, a focal work is a portrait of Alessandro de' Medici. Unfortunately, however, the unique opportunity that this small, but important show might have offered to the national conversation on race has been ignored.
Down through the centuries, most scholars have accepted that Alessandro de' Medici's mother was a slave woman and she was so identified by Alessandro's contemporaries. But the subject of the African ancestry of Alessandro, the first Duke of Florence, is being downplayed by the curators of the Philadelphia exhibit, entitled "Pontormo, Bronzino and the Medici."
Girogio Vasari's full length portrait of Alessandro de' Medici from the frescos in the Palazzo Vecchio

Due to a kind of snobbery endemic to the field - a subject which Phillipe de Montebello at the Met in New York so unabashedly has talked about - it is not just the Philadelphia Museum but the American art establishment in general that appears to be having difficulty coming to terms with this Medici scion from whom descends some of Europe's most titled families, including two branches of the Hapsburgs.
In just the last three years, for example, a portrait of Alessandro's daughter, Giulia, Princess of Ottojano, and another portrait of the Duke himself have appeared in two major exhibitions in the U.S.: one at the National Gallery in Washington in 2001 and another at the Art Institute of Chicago in an exhibit which a few months later travelled to the Detroit Institute of the Arts where it closed in 2003. However, as with the current Philadelphia exhibit, little was done by the curators of these shows to draw the public's attention to either the Duke's color or his place in history.
In the only reference to the Duke's color in the entire 173-page catalogue of the Philadelphia exhibit, Karl Strehlke, the curator and organizer writes, "Some scholars have claimed that Alessandro's mother was a North African slave. This cannot be confirmed, however, and the text of a letter that she wrote to her son in 1529 suggests that she was an Italian peasant from Lazio." Such a statement can only be described as disingenuous.
Based on what Lorenzino de' Medici, Alessandro's kinsman, wrote about her in his Aplogoia, all scholars who have dealt with the subject accept that the servant whom he cites as the Duke's mother, is one and the same Simunetta from Collavecchio in the province of Lazio. Besides her being specifically identified as a "slave" by the historians Bernardo Segni and Giovanni Cambi, both contemporaries of the Duke's, Cardinal Salviati, a relation of Alessandro's, describes this woman as "una villisima schiava." And, in point of fact, the question of identity that Lorenzino de' Medici does raise, and Segni repeats, is not whether Simunetta was Alessandro's mother, but whether the "mule driver" she subsequently married was Alessandro's father instead of one or the other of two candidates still attributed with his paternity.
As Christopher Hare in his work, Romance of a Medici Warrior, explains, "[Alessandro] was reported to be the son of the late Lorenzo dei Medici, Duke of Urbino, but the affection shown him by Clement VII, gave strength to the general opinion that the Pope was his father. In any case his mother was a mulatto slave, and Alessandro had the dark skin, thick lips and curly hair of a Negro."
Like Hare, one need only to browse through the images of the Duke published in Carla Langedijk's two-volume work, Portraits of the Medici, to verify contemporary descriptions of his apearance such as Ceccherelli's "capelli ricci neri e bruno in vise," (brown in complexion with very curly black hair) or Scipione Ammirato's "color bruno, labbri grossi e capegli crespi." (brown, thick lips and kinky hair.)
Granted, the majority of paintings, coins, medallions, etc. depicting Alessandro de' Medici were done after his assassination in 1537. However, they were the work of artists who had known him personally. The African traits of the Duke that appear in Giorgio Vasari's frescos in the Palazzo Vecchio, for example, are just as pronounced as in the more familiar image attributed to the school of Bronzino. Furthermore, in Vasari's own description of the work he did for this commission, the accuracy of the innumerable portraits he executed and the public's ability to identify them, especially after their demise, was the source of a great deal of pride for him.
But what could be more decisive proof of Alessandro's African ancestry than the following taken from Scipione Ammirato, the court historian of Alessandro de' Medici's successor, Cosimo:
"Non sono per tacere l'opinione,che in quel eta ando attorno intorno la nascita di Alessandro, la qual fu, che egli fusse nato d' una schiava in quel tempo, che il padre e i zij rientrarono in Firenze. Il che peravventura pote procedere per esser egli stato di color bruno, e per aver avuto i labbri grossi, e i capegli crespi."
What makes the omission of Alessandro's race in the current Philadelphia exhibition problematic, especially after criticism by the Washington Post and the New York Times for the similar omission in the National Gallery's exhibition, is the fact that besides being the first black head of state in modern western history, Alessandro de' Medici's race was quite pivotal to the Grand Ducal and the most politically powerful period of Medici history.
Pope Clement VII, Alessandro's father, who also was born illegitimate, obviously felt that his illegitimate son would need every political bootstrap he could obtain for him if Alessandro were to survive as the legal representative of the family. Hence the bargain Clement struck with the Emperor Charles V in 1529 to have Alessandro created Duke of Florence even though the family had assiduously avoided such honorifics so as not to appear insensitive to the republican aspirations of the population.
Considering not only the racial problems America is still struggling with but also the high proportion of African Americans in Philadelphia, the curators' treatment of the subject of Alessandro's African slave mother is troubling. All the more so considering how important a role the de' Medici have played in European history and culture and the implications this holds for undermining the racial preconceptions that people of color must still contend with today.
Moreover, it seems to me that in addition to the elitism of the rarified world of the art connoisseur, the old bugaboo of political correctness is also to blame. For those who push the victimization paradigm of the African American experience, there can be no room in the discourse on race for "narratives" that do not fit the stereotype.
But such a stance is misguided. A study of this particular branch of the Medici family would provide us with a unique and invaluable insight into how one of the most powerful and influential dynasties in Europe was forced to deal with the issue of race so early in the history of the African slave trade.

2 comments:

  1. He is not the first black head of state and his mother was not a black servant. His father-in-law Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was a Black Indigenous European.The entire Europe was originally ruled by Black People until 300 years ago when continuos intermarriage with Whites produced the present rulers who are never blue-eyed blondes. 200 years of writing out Black People by calling them recently expatriated from Africa and fake whitened paintings.
    http://www.nairaland.com/955076/black-african-nobility-ancient-europe

    ReplyDelete