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Saturday, 12 May 2012
East Meets West: The Influence of the Orient on European Renaissance Art
By Alexandra A. Jopp
“To fully evaluate the
artistic achievements of the Renaissance, it is necessary to acknowledge that
the art that emerged from it was deeply imbued with the worlds of trade and
politics, both of the east and of the west.”
Images of the East in Renaissance Art
Art is a product and reflection of culture. Because the human
mind is both universal and particular, we can understand art objects as
culturally specific, yet also interpret them from a broader historical
perspective. Panofsky defends the history of art as a humanistic discipline,
one that embodies values such as rationality and freedom while accepting human
limitations. Without a personal viewpoint, he argued, one would have no system
of reference against which observations could be measured.
Though the Renaissance is regarded as a period of rebirth of
the ideas of classical antiquity, antiquity, in fact, had never disappeared,
even during the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, though, it was regarded in
a new light and became the impetus for a world-changing movement. This was an
era of new ideas brought about through a revisiting of classical thought, an
attempt to link antique models with the contemporary world. The term
“Renaissance,” referring to the revolution in cultural and artistic life that
took place in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was not applied to
the period until the nineteenth century, when French historian Jules Michelet
used it in his History of France in
1855. He described the Renaissance as a movement that witnessed “the discovery
of the world and the discovery of man.” The goal of this art exhibit is to illustrate
that Renaissance art was a global phenomenon, and to look, in particular, at
the influences of the Orient (Byzantium, Persia, India and the Ottoman Empire).
During the Renaissance, European countries traded with the
nations of the Orient, and these business transactions led to cultural
exchanges, as can be seen in representations of Eastern ideas and imagery in
European Renaissance art. The appearance of Eastern images in Western art can provide
insights into the European perspective regarding the study of the East as a
whole. This imagery serves as a source of debate among art and history scholars
who analyze the complicated relationship between Europe and the Middle East in
today’s increasingly globalized world.
This exhibition offers an original thematic presentation of images
of the Orient as they appear in Renaissance art in the years 1280 to 1600. The paintings
come from such artists as Mantegna, Bellini, Holbein, Cimabue, Gozzoli, Ferrara
and van Eyck.
II.Checklist of Objects
1. Vittore Carpaccio, The Preaching of St. Stephen in Jerusalem,
1514. Oil on canvas. 148 cm × 194 cm (58 in × 76 in). Louvre, Paris.
the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533. Oil on oak. 207 cm × 209.5 cm (81 in × 82.5
in). National Gallery, London.
Ferrara.Seated Scribe. 1470s.
4. Benozzo Gozzoli, The Journey of the Magi, 1459-62. Cappella dei Magi,
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, East Wall, fresco.
5. Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. Oil on oak panel
of 3 vertical boards. 82.2 (panel 84.5) cm × 60 (panel 62.5) cm (32.4 in × 23.6
in). National Gallery, London.
6. Albrecht Dürer, Ottoman Rider, c.1495, ink and
watercolour on paper, 30 × 21 cm, Albertina, Vienna, Graphische Sammlung,
no.3196, D 171.
7. Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Mehmet II, 1480, oil on canvas,
70 × 52 cm, National Gallery, London. The National Gallery, London.
8. Costanzo da Ferrara, medal of Mehmet II, 1481, bronze,
diameter 12 cm, obverse (portrait), Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Douce collection.
9. Andrea Mantegna, Madonna and Child. 1457-1460. 212 cm × 460
cm (83 in × 180 in). Basilica di San Zeno, Verona.
10. Titian, Portrait of Sulyeman the Magnificent, c.1530–40, oil
on canvas, 99 × 85 cm, Gemäldgalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
11. Cimabue. Madonna and Child with Angels.
12. Sebastiano del Piombo, Cardinal Bandinello Sauli, His
Secretary, and Two Geographers, 1516, oil on panel transferred to canvas,
Samuel H. Kress Collection.
13. Giovanni Bellini and Titian, The Feast of the Gods,
1514/1529, oil on canvas, Widener Collection.
14. Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1370–1427, Madonna and Child, c.
1422, tempera on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection.
15. Giotto, probably 1266–1337, Madonna and Child, probably
1320/1330, tempera on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection.
III. Arrangement of
One of the many pleasures of an exhibit is that one often discovers
the unexpected. Images of Madonna and Child by Cimabue, Carpaccio, Mantegna,
Giotto, and Fabriano are grouped together to show influences of Middle Eastern
textiles in Renaissance art. What these paintings have in common is a
combination – a juxtaposition, even – of Christian icons with Islamic
influences. This group of paintings also includes an encircling inscription in
cursive Arabic script. The exhibit will open with Madonna and Child by Cimabue,
as it is considered to be one of the earliest examples of a Renaissance
painting that depicted Eastern textiles.
Next, four splendid works by Jan van Eyck, Hans Holbein the
Younger, Piombo and Gozzoli are assembled together to demonstrate the
influences of East-West trade and the power and prestige of patrons. These
three paintings serve as a display of personal symbols, with the carpets
symbolizing wealth, elite social status and refined artistic taste.
The last arrangement includes works by Titian, Bellini, Durer
and Ferrara. This group shows the relationship between East and West, as some
of the artists, such as Bellini, actually traveled to the Middle East and
served as a court painter to an Islamic monarch. The paintings in this group
include portraits in traditional Oriental style that express respect for
Thus, the exhibition includes a diverse set of both familiar and
obscure works by Italian Renaissance artists among its 15 paintings. It
provides opportunities for discovery and insight to all viewers, whether they
are art connoisseurs or novices.
Carpaccio, The Preaching of St. Stephen in Jerusalem, 1514. Oil on canvas. 148
cm × 194 cm (58 in × 76 in). Louvre, Paris.
Among Venetian painters, Vittore Carpaccio is known as a
storyteller. The Preaching of St. Stephen in Jerusalem is part of a cycle of
five paintings depicting events from the saint’s life. According to the Acts of
Apostles, St. Stephen was one of seven deacons of the early Christian community
in Jerusalem, one of “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of
wisdom” (Acts 6:3) who were chosen by the apostles to relieve them of the
administrative burden of waiting on tables and caring for widows. He is thought
to have been the first Christian martyr to be stoned to death by a crowd, and
he is the patron saint of weavers. In this painting, he is depicted dressed in
his deacon’s vestments, standing in front of a crowd, preaching about the
Kingdom of God. Carpaccio fills his work with fine Oriental attires, the Jerusalem
temple complex and white marble buildings with minarets.
2.Hans Holbein the Younger, The
Ambassadors, 1533. Oil on oak. 207 cm × 209.5 cm (81 in × 82.5 in). National
Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors was painted in 1533. On the left is
Jean de Dinteville, French ambassador to the court of Henry VIII. On the right
is his childhood friend who came to stay with him while on official business in
London, Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur. With an emphasis on exploration and
trade, the painting offers an arrangement of several scientific and musical
objects. The display on the two tables includes several examples of Oriental
imagery and is designed to impress with prestige and learning. The carpet on
the table and the rich green backdrop are examples of Turkish imports. The fur
in the painting symbolizes the wealth achieved through the commerce that
flourished between East and West.
3.Costanzo da Ferrara. Seated Scribe.
In addition to exchanging money and goods, Italy and Turkey also
exchanged artistic ideas and skills. When Sultan Mehmed II of Turkey requested
that a painter be sent to Istanbul to paint his portrait, King Ferdinand I of
Naples dispatched Costanzo, who stayed in Turkey for several years and was
knighted by the Sultan. It has been suggested that the artist might have left
Naples for Istanbul in the spring of 1478, about a year before Gentile Bellini
went to the Turkish court. Through the inclusion of several Oriental images, Costanzo
presents Islamic and Middle Eastern ideas as models for imitation and learning.
4. Benozzo Gozzoli,
The Journey of the Magi, 1459-62. Cappella dei Magi, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi,
Florence, East Wall, fresco.
A renewed interest in antiquity, philosophy and the natural
sciences was beginning among the wealthy in Quattrocento Florence, with the
Medici family at the vanguard. The region was a political and religious power
in which rich families competed for supremacy. Trade with the Middle East and
Europe was increasing, and in 1439, the Council of Ferrara, financed by the
Medici, moved to Florence, exposing Florentines to new cultures, art and
languages. Gozzoli’s painting can be interpreted as a celebration of the
Medici’s role in uniting the Eastern and Western churches. He painted John
VIII, Joseph II and Lorenzo de Medici as the three Magi. The Medici family
negotiated commercial access to Constantinople in 1439, as Lorenzo saw this as
a critical connection between East and West. The general population of
Constantinople rejected the agreement, however, and the Italian state refused
to provide military assistance to the Byzantines in their fight against the
Ottomans. The agreement ended in 1453, the same year that Constantinople fell,
bringing an end to the Byzantine Empire. The painting remains an important example
of Middle Eastern ideas incorporated into Italian artwork. It shows the status that
was associated with embarking on a magnificent journey to the East, and it depicts
the travelers as wealthy explorers and diplomats forming vital connections
between Europe and the Eastern world.
5. Jan van Eyck,
Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. Oil on oak panel of 3 vertical boards. 82.2 (panel
84.5) cm × 60 (panel 62.5) cm (32.4 in × 23.6 in). National Gallery, London.
This mysterious painting mesmerizes not only because of its
meticulous realistic detail but also because of its intriguing iconographic
content, which would have been readily accessible to the contemporary viewer,
but much of which we are now unable to decode. We observe a wealthy couple,
Giovanni Arnolfini, a wealthy silk merchant from Tuscany, and Giovanna Cenami,
whose figures loom large in the foreground of a restricted and confined space.
The artist depicted, among other things, a brick house, rich clothes, a Turkish
carpet, a mirror, Spanish oranges and Venetian glasswork – all signs of prosperity.
The painting is a classic portrayal of the magnificence of exotic goods.
V.15 Sources for the Exhibition
1.Ashton, Eliyahu. Levant Trade in the Middle
Ages. Princeton University Press:
2.Baxandall, Michael. Painting and Experience in
15th-century Italy. Oxford, 1972.
3.Brotton, Jerry. The Renaissance Bazaar. Oxford
University Press: Oxford, 2002.
4.“Bellini in Istanbul,” in Bellini and the
East.New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 2005.
5.Contadini, Anna and Norton, Claire, eds. The
Renaissance and the Ottoman World. London: Ashgate, 2012.
6.Contadini , Anna and Burnett, Charles, eds.
Islam and the Italian Renaissance. London: The Warburg Institute, 1999.
7.Cowan, Alexander. Mediterranean Urban Culture,
1400-1700. University of Exeter Press: Exeter, 200.
8.Elkins, J., ed. Is Art History Global?
Routledge: New York, 2007.
9.Friedman, John Block. “Exotic Peoples in
Manuscript Illustration,” in The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and
University Press, 1981.
Deborah. Venice and the East. New Haven and London: Yale University Press,
Images of Mehmed the Conqueror,” in Bellini and the East.New Haven and London: Yale University
and Jerry Broton, Global Interests:
Renaissance Art between East and West. Reaktion Books: London, 2000.
Lisa.Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. W. W. Norton &
Company: New York, 1998.
Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and
Italian art, 1300-1600. Berkeley: University of California, 2002.
G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpakli. The Age of the Beloveds: Love and the Beloved
in Early Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society. Duke University