13-14 January 2022, Palazzo Alberti


Marta Albalá-Pelegrín, ‘Medici patronage and Iberian theatre in Rome: Performing expansion into Sub-Saharan Africa (1490-1530)’

Sheila Barker, ‘Gazelles for antidotes: Medici court medicine in Africa’

Brian Brege, ‘Africa’s Indian Ocean shore: Ivory, gold, and late Renaissance Tuscany’s imagination of East Africa’

Francesco Guidi Bruscoli, ‘“Ànno fatto una impresa grossa per il paexe di Ghinea contro a nostra voglia”. Lorenzo de’ Medici and the voyage to Guinea, 1474-75’

Sarah Cockram, ‘The Medici and Sub-Saharan animals’

Lizzy Currie, ‘Clothing and Cross-Cultural Perspectives at the Medici Court, 1550-1650’

Lori De Lucia, ‘Eunuchs in the Medici court: Mediterranean definitions of blackness exchanged in elite courts of early modern Italy’

Ingrid Greenfield, ‘“Unknown to our ancestors”: Ancient sovereignty and new geography in the Guardaroba maps of Africa’

Paul Kaplan, ‘Public audience: The sources, meaning and impact of the African figure in the frescoed architecture of the Palazzo Pitti’

Samantha Kelly, ‘Patronage of an African Christian community in Rome: Santo Stefano under the Medici popes’

Scott Nethersole, ‘Cosimo de’ Medici and the miracle of the black leg, ca. 1430-1455’

Brian Sandberg, ‘New pathways of pain: Medicean perceptions of West Africans in trans-Saharan and Mediterranean slavery’

Joaneath Spicer, ‘The Medici (not) in Sierra Leone’

Justine Walden, ‘Updating Orientalism: Sub-Saharan Africans, slave labor, and imagined Ottomans at the Medici court in the sixteenth and seventeenth century’

Emily Wilbourne, ‘Voice, race and slavery at the Medici court’


The place of sub-Saharan Africa in Europe in the period 1450-1700 has always been less studied than the place of the Levant, North Africa or Asia, and why this should be so is one of the reasons for the conference. The so-called global turn in history has rightly moved interactions, connections, projections and relationships between the two center-stage. By focusing on Medici connections to Africa over two and a half centuries, the index of possible perceptions and understandings, as well as changes in interest and intervention over time, should become apparent. Desirous of competing with other courts, the Medici set up bureaucratic and diplomatic systems that allowed them access to global news and affairs, and their archival records are threaded with snippets about sub-Saharan Africa and its products, much of which has not been analyzed. How did various Medici rulers conceive of Africa? What use did they make of its constituent parts in their collections? Vectors of information about sub-Saharan Africa were human – reports by people who had been there – as well as diagrammatic – maps of the regions or the whole continent, but information remained at a premium, myth and misinformation were rife, and ignorance remained high. Everything African will be considered: from the importation and use of raw materials and foodstuffs, such as gold, ivory and pepper, to the acquisition of animals, plants and African decorative objects, and the inclusion of enslaved Africans at court.

The organizers of the conference, Kate Lowe and Alessio Assonitis, invite proposals for 30-minute papers that pertain to relevant subjects. These include but are not limited to:

  • The Medici court and the understanding of sub-Saharan African geography and political structures
  • Gift-giving culture
  • Medici involvement in Ethiopia
  • Medici formation of collections relating to African naturalia, animalia, curiosities and works of art
  • Representations of sub-Saharan Africa across all media at the Medici court
  • Medici maps and books on sub-Saharan Africa
  • Agents, envoys and ambassadors
  • News and news networks
  • Sub-Saharan African figures at the Medici court
  • The Medici and Sierra Leone