Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe

Bringing together objects as diverse as paintings, marble and bronze sculpture, cameos, drawings, books, and prints, Revealing the African Presence in Rennaissance Europe tells through works of art the stories of European perceptions of Africa in the Renaissance, of the Africans who came to Europe in capacities ranging from slaves to high-level diplomats, and of the people of African extraction among the European religious figures and rulers of the time. While scholars have been slowly piecing together this history, this is the first exhibition to make available to a wide American audience the results in this exciting field of inquiry. New York Times critic Holland Cotter praised the exhibition as “convention-rattling,” “fresh with historical news,” and “as much about questions as answers.”

Among the outstanding objects on view is a posthumous portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici (1510–1537), painted by Agnolo Bronzino after his master Alessandro Allori’s lost portrait from life, on loan from the Museo degli Uffizi in Florence. Alessandro de’ Medici, a member of the powerful Florentine ruling family, was, until his assassination, the tyrant of Florence. It is less well known that he was the illegitimate son of the future Pope Clement VII and an African servant. Alessandro’s own illegitimate daughter, Giulia de’ Medici, appears in a portrait by the Florentine artist Pontormo, on loan from the Walters Art Museum. It is Giulia’s portrait, the first European portrait of an African-European child, that launched curator Joaneath Spicer’s research for this exhibition over a decade ago. Other loans come from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, the Arms and Armor Department at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and private collections, both domestic and foreign.

Betsy J. Rosasco
Research Curator of European Painting and Sculpture 

Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe was organized by the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, in collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition at Princeton has been made possible by generous support from Judith McCartin Scheide and William H. Scheide, Class of 1936, sponsors of the spring 2013 exhibition program; the National Endowment for the Arts; the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project; Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; the Jannotta-Pearsall Family Fund of the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole; and the Frances E. and Elias Wolf, Class of 1920, Fund. Additional support has been provided by the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; the Department of History, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, the University Center for Human Values, and the Council of the Humanities, Princeton University; the Apparatus Fund; and by the Judith and Anthony B. Evnin, Class of 1962, Exhibitions Fund, with further support from the Program in Renaissance Studies and the Center for African American Studies, Princeton University, and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum. Programming is made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.