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Week 10: Objects, Images & Transculturation

The early modern world was shaped not only by mobile people but also by mobile things. The increasing numbers of objects and images which crossed geographical and cultural borders were both products and agents of exchange, bringing together materials, skills, and styles from different parts of the world into a single artifact, or transmitting ideas, tastes, and representations into distant regions. Focusing on global material culture, this week we will pose the question whether and how things could act as go-betweens.

Required Reading

Peter Mason, The Lives of Images (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), Ch. 4: ‘The Purloined Codex’, pp. 101-130. Link.

Gülru Necipoğlu, ‘Süleyman the Magnificent and the Representation of Power in the Context of Ottoman-Habsburg-Papal Rivalry’, The Art Bulletin 71.3 (1989): 401-427. Link.

Primary Sources

'南蛮屏風 [Arrival of the Europeans]', Pair of six-panel folding screens, Japan, first quarter of 17th century (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

'Codex Mendoza', Mexico, c. 1541 (The Bodleian Library, Oxford).

Seminar Questions

- Peter Mason speaks about ‘a penchant for the exotic, a tendency towards European assimilation, and a vagueness with regard to geography’ (119). How did these attitudes impact on the representative function of objects with regard to their cultures of origin?

- Mason argues that ‘the images from the Codex Mendoza can truly be said to have led a life of their own’ (129). In your opinion, can we ascribe independent intermediary roles to images?

- Gülru Necipoğlu describes ‘a complex network of patron/client relations in which the sultan was not always the chief tastemaker’ (423). What does her account suggest regarding the roles and agency of go-betweens?

- What are the various perspectives on go-betweens provided by the case of Süleyman’s Venetian helmet-crown?

- Observe “Arrival of the Europeans”: can you name three different ways in which this Namban screen testifies to cross-cultural interaction?

Further Reading

Appadurai, Arjun (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Bentley, Tamara H., 'People and Things in Motion: The View from the East', in: Tamara H. Bentley (ed.), Picturing Commerce in and from the East Asian Maritime Circuits, 1550-1800 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018), pp. 21-52.

Biedermann, Zoltán, Anne Gerritsen, and Giorgio Riello (eds.), Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Curvelo, Alexandra, ‘The Disruptive Presence of the Namban-jin in Early Modern Japan’, Journal of the Economic & Social History of the Orient 55.2-3 (2012): 581-602.

Findlen, Paula (ed.), Early Modern Things. Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (New York: Routledge, 2013).

Gerritsen, Anne, and Giorgio Riello (eds.), The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (London/New York: Routledge, 2016).

Gruzinski, Serge, Painting the Conquest: The Mexican Indians and the European Renaissance (Paris: Unesco/Flammarion, 1992).

Jackson, Anna, and Amin Jaffer (eds.), Encounters: The Meeting of Europe and Asia 1500-1800 (London: V&A Publications, 2004).

Jardine, Lisa & Jerry Brotton, Global Interests: Renaissance Art between East and West (London: Reaktion Books, 2000).

Jordan Gschwend, Annemarie, and K.J.P. Lowe, The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015).

Pratt, Mary-Louise, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).

Russo, Alessandra, “Cortés’s objects and the Idea of New Spain: Inventories as Spatial Narratives”, Journal of the History of Collections (2011): 229-252.

Winterbottom, Anna, Hybrid Knowledge in the Early East India Company World (New York: Palgrave, 2016).


Suleyman the Magnificent