Pietro Tacca and his Quattro Mori: The beauty and identity of the slaves

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The colossal bronze statues of four Ottoman slaves, one of whom is a black African, that Pietro Tacca added in the 1620s to the Monument to Ferdinando I de’ Medici in Livorno have become touchstones in the literature on the image of the ‘other’ in early-modern European art. Contributing to their canonical status is the fact that the earliest sources on the monument tell us that two of the statues depict specific galley slaves: a ‘Turkish Moor […] nicknamed Morgiano, who […] was very beautiful’ and a ‘robust old Saletino named Alì’. This essay reviews the history of the monument and offers new documentary evidence in support of the actual existence of ‘Morgiano’ and ‘Alì’. It then explores the implications of the unprecedented rhetoric of beauty used to describe ‘Morgiano’ in the early sources, and concludes with a consideration of the monument’s reception – both literary and visual – from the mid-seventeenth century until today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-180
Number of pages36
JournalArtibus et Historiae
Issue number71
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

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