This conference is partly funded by the

Samuel H. Kress Foundation


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