Dr. Negar Rokhgar is giving a talk on February 23, 2021, at 12 pm (ET) on Tuesday Ten Talks organized by the Medici Archive Project (MAP). The Tuesday Ten Talks is an online lecture series led by MAP’s scholars for the Friends of the Medici Archive Project. Negar was a Samuel H. Kress fellow of the MAP in fall 2018 and has done extensive archive investigation in Italy for her dissertation project titled “The Overtures of a Muslim Ally: Diplomatic Gifts from Persia to Italy (1453-1630).” She earned her PhD in Art History (Early Modern Italy) from Rutgers University in 2020 and is currently working on her book titled Crossroads of Portability between Early Modern Tuscany and Persia. The book explores the material objects and the delegates of Persia and Tuscany as they travelled in a shuttle of transcultural encounters between the two centers and situates them within the dynamic locus of interactions in the early modern Mediterranean. She is presenting parts of her work in the upcoming talk on February 23.

Early Modern Visions of Persia in Ten Objects in Italian Collections 

Abstract: 

By the mid-fifteenth century, the extensive territorial spread of Ottomans brought the Islamic world in close contact with Christian Europe. Concurrently, the Papacy spearheaded an anti Ottoman league, to which Persia, the eastern Muslim neighbor of the Porte (Ottoman Court)  joined to crush the mutual enemy. The plea for an anti-Ottoman union with European powers by the Persian king in the late fifteenth century set the stage for continued alliances pursued through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the Safavid Shahs of Persia. These enduring connections between European Christian and Persian Muslim rulers resulted in complex reciprocal diplomatic exchanges fostered through the establishment of diplomatic embassies and the exchange of gifts.  

This talk is an art historical analysis of ten works of art that reveal much about the perception of cultural differences in early modern courts of Italy and Persia. It distinguishes between two forms of visual and cultural exchange. The first encompasses a wide range of materials that functioned as the objects of diplomatic exchange from Persia to various Italian courts and city states. The second includes painted representations, which were commissioned following important diplomatic missions and the formation of new alliances and treaties in Italy. By considering the artistic style and material culture of the Persian commissions, this study situates the objects in their original context and elucidate the inherent messages behind their selection as  “cultural products”. Conversely, by looking at the paintings by European artists commissioned to illustrate these Persian embassies in Italy or address Persian-Italian negotiations through visual references, it approaches the same diplomatic interactions through the lens of Italian authorities and assesses the message they received or intended to broadcast to their audience.  

In looking at painted representations, this talk evaluates an underlying politics of how visual images may have served various agendas. In addition to expressing deep forms of knowledge about territorial and religious histories, they visually established hierarchies of cultural and political status within the growing alliance. By turning attention specifically to the objects and representations associated with the Persian-Italian alliances, this talk adds new dimensions to the understanding of how objects functioned as modes of communication that were integral to solidifying new forms of cross-cultural relationships in the early modern period.