People of Color in European Art History

  1. Jacapo Pontormo

    Portrait of Maria Salviati de’ Medici with Giulia de’ Medici

    Italy (c. 1537)88 x 71.3 x 1 cm

    Giulia Romola di Alessandro de’ Medici (c. 1535 – c. 1588) was the illegitimate, possibly biracial daughter of Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence and his mistress Taddea Malaspina. Following her father’s assassination, she was reared at the court of Cosimo I de’ Medici and married advantageously twice.

    The child was painted over sometime during the 19th century but was rediscovered during a 1937 cleaning of the work.

    As she grew up, Giulia was completely integrated into life at court and was educated to a high standard, as were the daughters and other female wards of Cosimo I. 

    Courtiers noted that the young Giulia was “the image of her father.” Cosimo arranged an advantageous marriage for her with Francesco Cantelmo, the Count of Alvito and the Duke of Popoli, in 1550, when she was about fifteen years old, and provided a dowry for her of an amount that would be worth about eight million United States dollars today.

    Some art historians once identified the child as a young Cosimo I de’ Medici, but it is now generally accepted to be Giulia. The child in the portrait appears to be a little girl, rather than a boy, and her expression is anxious. The child’s full lips, round nose, and curly reddish hair also bear resemblance to known portraits of the young Alessandro de’ Medici. Other girls of about the right age who were at court during this period also do not resemble the child in the portrait.  This painting is in the permanent collection of The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

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