2022 IAS Research and Publication Grant

Dr. Leah R. Clark (Associate Professor and Director of Studies, University of Oxford)

Courtly Mediators: Transcultural Objects Between Renaissance Italy and the Islamic World

Courtly Mediators investigates the processes and outcomes of exchanges of a range of materials and objects including Mamluk metalware, ceramic drug jars, Chinese porcelain and aromatics across Mediterranean courts. Approaching these objects as transcultural recognises that their materials, technologies, motifs, and associated sensorial practices reflect decades of cross-cultural pollination. Taking specific case studies from the courts of Naples and Ferrara, these objects are situated within particular frameworks of interaction and reception, finding new ways to categorise these artefacts beyond the ‘foreign’ or ‘exotic.’ Not treated as merely decorative, these ornamental transcultural objects held metaphoric, technological, intellectual, and sensorial capabilities, often entering into complex intermedial dialogues with other materials, objects, and images. As this book demonstrates, Naples was an important centre of culture in the fifteenth century, drawing in artists, ambassadors, luxury goods, and cultural practices from Catalonia, the Netherlands, France, Burgundy, Dalmatia, Damascus, Istanbul, Tunisia, Cairo, Alexandria, and other Italian regions, but this has also made it overlooked in favour of homogenic centres of production, such as Florence. Courtly Mediators situates Naples within the geopolitics of trade and diplomacy to consider it as an important node in a global network, where cosmopolitanism and the transcultural flourished, setting the cultural standards for smaller Italian states, such as Ferrara. By articulating how and why transcultural objects were exchanged, displayed, and copied, Courtly Mediators transforms our understanding of the Italian Renaissance court by demonstrating that its culture of collecting, rather than simply a humanistic enterprise associated with the European roots of the Renaissance, was also underscored by interactions with global material cultures.

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