2023 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, San Juan, Puerto Rico
IAS-Sponsored Session

Re-Orienting the Early Modern Networks of Exchange between Italy and Asia

Organizer: Negar Rokhgar, Pratt Institute

Organizer: Margo Weitzman, Rutgers University

Chair and Respondent: Kelli Wood, University of Tennessee Knoxville

Cross-cultural exchange between early modern Italy and the “East” is a fulcrum for many early modern scholars. It is widely established that visual and material culture, economics and trade, and political alliances were phenomena that hinged on fluid boundaries and complex global relationships. For instance, how did global commerce and trade affect political alliances, the movement of materials, and visual culture? To what extend did diplomatic relations between networks shape borders or influence access to goods and resources? How did traveling agents build networks between commercial centers? How did the Renaissance agent craft personal and communal identities in foreign countries? With these questions in mind, we aim to convene scholars with critical approaches toward cultural, political, and material exchange between Italy and Asia during the early modern period.


Negar Rokhgar, Pratt Institute
Turbans, Crusaders, and the Dynamics of the Anti-Ottoman Campaign in the Piccolomini Library

The fresco cycle in the Piccolomini Library celebrates the life of Pope Pius II (r.1458-1464) in ten episodes. The culminating scene called The Arrival in Ancona, memorialized the anti-Ottoman crusade conducted by the pope. The painting shows Pius II held above a crowd on his seat with a partial view of Ancona and the crusader galleys in the background. The pope points to his left side where two turbaned figures, one standing frontally and the other in profile kneeling toward the pope, present two types of the contemporary Islamic costumes. The Turkish references of the standing figure have been corroborated by art historians. However, the identity of the kneeling figure has been controversial among scholars. This paper uncovers archival documents to identify the kneeling figure as the envoy of Uzun Hasan, the Turkman king of Persia, who delivered the king’s allegiance to the papacy in the anti-Ottoman crusade of 1464.

Margo Weitzman, Rutgers University
Interpreting Locality: Filippo Sassetti and the Reception of India and its Objects in Florence

In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Tuscany expanded its participation in international trade through bankers and merchants based in Portugal. Central to this expansion were merchants who traveled eastwards with Portuguese fleets and acted as agents to the Grand Dukes. This paper examines the role of one such merchant, Filippo Sassetti, in the cultivation of economic networks through the movement of objects and materials from Goa to Florence. While living in India from 1583 to 1588, Sassetti oversaw shipments of goods and wrote vivid empirical accounts to accompany their transfer. He was both an interpreter and accumulator of Indian cultural knowledge. I explore how Indian objects acquired a new locality through the influence of commercial intermediaries and the global networks between India and Medici collectors. I argue that Sassetti played a preeminent role in shaping the courtly conceptualization of India as a place and reception of its objects.

Alexandria Brown-Hedjazi, Stanford University
The Lapis Dome of the Cappella dei Principi: Medici Exchange with Safavid Iran

For the Medici, sovereigns of the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian empires were prototypes of ideal rule: formidable on the battlefield, they valued truth in governance and controlled some of the largest empires in history. All of these traits resonated with the Medicean dreams of retaking Jerusalem and forging a global empire of their own. Fascination with Persian kingship manifested itself in several unstudied Florentine decorative projects. Thus, In the Palazzo Medici, the small Sala della Stufa is ornamented with portraits of Cyrus the Great, Darius and Xerxes alongside military victories. The second case study is the unrealized plan for the dome of the Cappella dei Principi—a the gargantuan family mausoleum in San Lorenzo. Originally conceived as a dome clad entirely in lapis lazuli, the design recalled the ancient Persian palaces in Babylon and of Ctesiphon and their own mythic blue domes. This paper investigates these works of art in the context of Medicean-Safavid exchange.

Back to Conference

Officers & Contacts