A small group of five enslaved people of sub-Saharan African ancestry was purchased in Portugal on behalf of the Medici and sent to Florence in the late 1540s. The group comprised three male children, a woman, and a young female child. Slavery was legally enshrined and routine on the Italian peninsula in the sixteenth century yet its lived experience was anything but homogeneous. Using documents from the Archivio di Stato in Florence, this paper examines what is known about the prior biographies of these five, and compares lives under Medici ‘ownership’ within the group, revealing rather different trajectories and outcomes.
Kate Lowe is an Associate Fellow at the Warburg Institute, University of London. In 2005 she co-edited Black Africans in Renaissance Europe and she has worked on various aspects of Africa in Renaissance Italy for over 20 years. In 2017 she co-curated A Cidade Global: Lisboa no Renascimento at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. She was the co-convenor of the research seminar on Italian medieval and Renaissance History at the Institute of Historical Research in London between 1996 and 2018, and editor of the I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History monograph series, published by Harvard University Press, between 2012 and 2020.