Renaissance Art between East and West

April 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Global Interests : Renaissance Art between East and West: East and West fixed each other with an equal reciprocal gaze… by Lisa Jardine and Jerry Brotton.

European civilization defined itself between 1450 and 1550. Over this period Europe was in trading terms with the East, and notably with the Ottoman Empire of Mehmet the Conqueror and Süleyman the Magnificent. The authors analyze cultural exchanges taking place between East and West, relationships between Hapsburg emperors, Kings of Europe and Ottoman sultans, through “portraits medals”, “tapestries”, and “equestrian art”.

“Boundaries between […] East and West were thoroughly permeable in the Renaissance”.

It might seem surprising for a contemporary audience, but the image of Saint George slaying a dragon, for example, was used in both Eastern and Western churches, sitting in a pivotal position “on the permeable boundary between East and West”.

This portrait of Mehmet II, was painted in 1479 by Gentile Bellini, an Italian artist who spent time in Istanbul at the Sultan’s court.

Another Italian, spending time as a painter in the Ottoman’s court, in the 15th century, was Costanzo da Ferrara. Among his works: Standing OttomanSeated Scribe,  and a portrait medal of Mehmet .

Albrecht Dürer’s Ottoman Rider (C. 1495), was based “on the reverse of the Mehmet Medal (by Ferrara)”. It became an “immediately recognizable representation of Eastern power”.

Ferrara’s other work, Seated Scribe, after being copied by Persian artist Bihzad, it became very fashionable in Persia and in the East. “An absorption of a western image into an oriental tradition”.

The authors also explore Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors. It was painted for a French Ambassador in 1533, and shows a double portrait. On the table we can see various objects, each having a specific meaning, among them: globes (sign of imperial ambition) and an Ottoman carpet. The Ottoman Empire, at the time, was not only a “military force to be reckoned with”, it was also a “cultural and intellectual power on a par with any in Western Europe, as well as the main source of high-quality luxury goods”.

The authors claim that, for this period, they’re in a position to reject Edward Said’s “version of Western Europe’s construction of the Orient as an alien, displaced other, positioned in opposition to a confident, imperialist Eurocentrism”.  Their research, indeed, reveals “pragmatic engagements between East and West, in which each fully acknowledged the other”.

The Renaissance Man, as it was later on defined, with the “Eastern Other” as its negative, “turns out to be a retrospective construction of 19th century ideology”.

>>> Hi, Venice? It’s Istanbul. Can You Send a Painter?


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