Florence in The Middle East – The Middle East in Florence: Old and New Challenges for Art History

    • IMG_1755
    • Presentation speakers
      • Vera-Simone Schulz, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut, Florence, Italy


    When Rudolf Sellheim claimed in 1966 that he had read the shahāda, the Muslim declaration of belief, in mirror writing on the Virgin’s halo in Masaccio’s San Giovenale Altarpiece (1422), his reading was considered scandalous. In the last decades, however, the art historical “re-discovery” of late medieval and early modern Mediterranean networks has brought the phenomenon of haloes with pseudo-arabic inscriptions in Italian painting back into the focus of attention. They are now placed next to golden plates with arabic inscriptions from Mamluk Egypt. This paper will concentrate on the city of Florence as a major artistic center in the late middle ages and in the Renaissance, a city which has been called the ›new Athens‹ and which has always played a crucial role in the canon of European art. However, by highlighting the close and multi-layered diplomatic, economic and artistic relationships between this city, the Mediterranean world and regions beyond it, this study will examine a selection of the many non-European artifacts which arrived in Florence as precious diplomatic gifts, booty, or items of trade, and it will analyze how these artifacts shaped the material and visual culture of the city. Furthermore, this paper will show how major figures in the canon of European painting such as Masaccio have intriguingly and creatively dealt with these non-European artifacts in their artworks, thus questioning the ›Europeanness‹ of Italian art and the borders and the role of ›Europe‹ in the middle ages and early modern period.