Staff Pick: Botticelli’s “Portrait of a Young Man, possibly Giuliano de’ Medici”

This portrait may represent Giuliano de’ Medici, who was assassinated on Easter Sunday in 1478 in a conspiracy against the Medici family and their governance of Florence. Learn more about the powerful Medici family in our newest installation, “Florence, Cradle of the Renaissance.”

Portrait of a Young Man, possibly Giuliano de’ Medici,” 1465–70, by Sandro Botticelli


January 6th 1537: Alessandro de’Medici killed

On this day in 1537, Alessandro de’Medici, Duke of Florence, was murdered. Born in Florence in 1510, he was recognised as the illegitimate son of Florentine nobleman Lorenzo II de’Medici and an African slave named Simonetta da Collavechio. However, rumours suggested his father was actually Lorenzo’s cousin Giulio de’Medici, who went on to become Pope Clement VII. Alessandro’s mother was freed, thus, under Roman law, ensuring that her son was also classified as free. His dark complexion and African ancestry earned him the nickname ‘il Moro’, which translates as ‘the Moor’. In 1522, Alessandro became duke of Penna, and Giulio appointed a regent for Alessandro as leader of Florence. However, the Medici were forced to flee Florence when republican revolution broke out against their rule. In 1529, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V agreed to restore the Medici, nominating Alessandro as the first Duke of Florence. Alessandro was generally a popular leader for his concern for the poor and patronage of the arts, though his leadership style was also criticised as severe and repressive. He married the emperor’s illegitimate daughter Margeret, and his descendants married into eminent families throughout Europe. In January 1537, when he was twenty-six, Alessandro was murdered by his cousin and rival Lorenzino de’Medici, who was himself forced to flee Florence and was killed eleven years later. Alessandro de’Medici has received increased attention from historians in recent years, celebrating him as the first black head of state in European history.


Shrouded within the park of Villa Demidoff, in Medici Villas (Unesco World Heritage List, 2013), Tuscany, just 7 miles north of Florence, there sits a gigantic XVI century sculpture, 14-meter-tall masterpiece - known as the Appennine Colossus. The brooding structure was first erected in 1580 by Flemish sculptor Giambologna, pseudonym of Jean de Boulogne (Douai, 1529 - Florence, 1608).

The Colossus once had rooms, caves and inner passageways, and even a hydraulic system that connected the head of the giant to the various water sources in his body.

Stefano della Bella

Costume Design for a Moorish Character, Half-Length

Italy (c. 1640s)

Drawing, Pink and Grey Washes, 170 c 129 mm.

This drawing was probably originally intended as a costume design for one of the various pageants, masquerades and ballets of the Medici Court, particularly those organised the Accademia degli Immobili, under the patronage of Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici.

It is interesting to note that, in each of the productions of the Accademia, a part was written for the Cardinal’s Moorish servant. Indeed, among a large group of full-length costume studies by Della Bella in the British Museum - from the same period and in the same technique as the drawing here exhibited - is a study of a costumed moor, possibly the same model.

Five similar bust-length studies of female moors wearing elaborate headdresses, also drawn with pale washes of colour, are in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

Other examples, in pen and ink, are in the Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica in Rome. There is another drawing, pendant to the present sheet, of a Moor wearing an elaborate headdress, bust-length and turned to the left, which is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.