2018 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans
IAS-Sponsored Session

Beyond Scylla and Charybdis: Exchanges Between Early Modern Sicily, Spain, and North Africa II

The Chicory, The Gallery
Thursday March 22, 2018, 11:00am-12:30pm

Organizers: Cristelle Baskins, Tufts University and Elizabeth Kassler-Taub, Case Western Reserve University

Chair: Borja Franco, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia

Respondent: Avinoam Shalem, Columbia University

This set of panels responds to a rising interest in the Italian South and its remarkable geographical and cultural reach in the early modern period. The limited scholarship on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Sicily focuses on the island’s split identity, its connections to both Spain and Italy. We propose to complicate this scheme by looking to links with North Africa — a region that, as Braudel argued, our “imperfect knowledge” has “left without a name.” Ranging from discussions of the trafficking of African slaves in Palermo to the trans-Mediterranean trade in artistic materials, and the exchange of architectural models on the front lines of war, these interdisciplinary contributions will consider contact between Sicily, the Ottoman world, and North Africa at the height of the early modern period.


Elizabeth Kassler-Taub, Case Western Reserve University
"Architectural Traffic Between Sicily and North Africa"

This paper examines the exchange of defensive models and building technologies between Sicily and Spanish outposts along the coastline of North Africa with a focus on Goletta, fronting the Bay of Tunis. From 1535 until 1574, the defensive system of Goletta was modernized by a succession of itinerant Italian and Spanish engineers dispatched to North Africa by the Spanish crown. I argue that the Spanish refortification of Goletta reveals substantive exchanges with construction efforts on Sicily, where the same circle of engineers was simultaneously fortifying cities such as the viceregal capital of Palermo. Moreover, engineers active in Goletta directly grappled with a fortress and landscape interventions surviving from the Ottoman period. By questioning how this architectural legacy was assimilated into the form of Goletta nuova, I offer an expanded vision of the Iberian-Sicilian encounter with the Ottoman presence in the central Mediterranean.

Antonio Urquízar, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia
"Early Modern Spanish Descriptions of North African Architecture"

Early Modern Spanish travellers found both Islamic architecture and Roman antiquities in their visits to the lands of North Africa. While historical writing in Spain had frequently developed a close link between these two poles, the descriptions of North Africa did not continue this approach. What where the expectations of the authors? What links with the Peninsula did they find?

Cristelle Baskins, Tufts University
"The King of Tunis in Black and White"

Like some of his sons, grandsons, and nephews, Muley Hassan, the Hafsid ruler of Tunis, (r. 1526-1550), was a Habsburg vassal who spent time in viceregal Palermo and Naples, as well as papal Rome. After his death, the exiled king enjoyed a posthumous afterlife in Europe through the medium of illustrated books published into the early eighteenth century. Print portraits of the king depend either on a woodcut broadsheet by Silvester van Parijs (Antwerp, 1535) — on the model of Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen — or they take inspiration from an anonymous panel now in the collections at Versailles (ca. 1545). This paper will compare visual images of Muley Hassan to the texts that accompany them. These portraits conveyed to readers and viewers not only the king’s elevated status but also his tainted reputation and political stigma.

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