Kate Lowe

Kate Lowe

Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Visiting Professor
African people, materials, animals and objects in Renaissance Florence
2023-2024 (April - June)


Kate Lowe is Associate Fellow at the Warburg Institute, University of London. She has taught at the Universities of London, Hong Kong, Cambridge, Birmingham and North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 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 academic editor of the history monograph series I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History, published by Harvard University Press, between 2012 and 2020. Her latest book, Provenance and Possession: Global Acquisitions from the Portuguese Trading Empire in Renaissance Italy will be published by Princeton University Press in 2024.

Project Summary

The place of sub-Saharan Africa in Renaissance Italy is only now generating the attention and interest it deserves. Florence is an ideal place to examine the genesis of awareness of sub-Saharan Africa, both because of its centrality to the Renaissance and on account of the fullness of its documentary and material records. Not only were Florentine captains and merchants involved at all stages with the Portuguese voyages of ‘exploration’ in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the rulers of Florence from Lorenzo de’ Medici to Cosimo I engaged in varying degrees with acquisitions from Africa and knowledge of Africa. Traces of engagement with sub-Saharan Africa by merchants and rulers alike remain in a multitude of archives, and representations of African people, materials (such as gold and ivory) and animals are evident in many media. African animals were the living embodiment of the axiom that Africa is always producing something new. One focus of the research will be on how the arrival of sub-Saharan enslaved people, objects and animals unsettles and complicates the standard narrative of the history and culture of Renaissance Florence. New and precise knowledge of Africa also unsettles Renaissance Florence because it shows the limitations of the classical tradition, causing some to suppress or ignore this knowledge, for example on maps.