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Global Interests: Renaissance Art between East and West. (Reviews).

Lisa Jardine and Jerry Brotton, Global Interests: Renaissance Art between East and West

Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000. 224 Pp. $39.95. ISBN: 0-8014-3808-X.

Lisa Jardine and Jerry Brotton examine the design and circulation of portrait medals, tapestries, and equestrian art in order to identify areas of cultural exchange between East and West in the Renaissance.

Antonio Pisanello's portrait medal of Emperor John VIII Paleologus, for instance, is signaled as "a landmark transaction between East and West" (29). Made during the Ecumenical Council of 1438, it may have been commissioned by Paleologus himself and copies were probably distributed to Eastern (Cardinal Bessarion) as well as Western protagonists. Stephen Scher (The Currency of Fame, 1994) envisioned it as an object that could have been ideated by Leon Battista Alberti under the patronage of Leonello d'Este -- a thoroughly classicizing venture of the Italian Renaissance. Jardine and Brotton, instead, propose that the medal was culturally ambidextrous, containing iconography derived from Byzantine as well as Western sources. Because the formula of a profile head surrounded by inscription (obverse) and a horse or mounted figure (reverse) was standard in classical Roman coinage from the Republic forward, however, little in its format is typically Eastern. Similarly, Costanzo da Ferrara's medal of Mehmet II (c.1481 ) is characterized as a prototype that radiated East and West, received in a "seamless cultural sphere" (42). Certainly the medal was received in an expanded (if not "seamless") cultural world, and the obverse served to distinguish Mehmet's image in Europe as well as in the Ottoman Empire. The equestrian scene (reverse), however, clearly follows a Western medallic convention of the period, which probably appealed to Islamic beholders as well.

The authors discuss large-scale tapestries commissioned by the imperial courts of Europe, and "the extent to which their transactions give a compelling account of international communities in both East and West utilizing each other's artistic production" (117). One salient example is the Lion Hunt tapestry (ca. 1502) from the series The Voyage to Calicut commissioned by King Manuel of Portugal from the weaver Gilles le Castre of Tournai. Although we are not told who provided the cartoon for The Lion Hunt, the costumes, horses, and riders resemble Persian representations of hero-kings hunting lions -- a venerable Sassanian and Islamic (Persian) theme. For Jardine and Brotron, the Calicut images functioned as "global currency in the transacting of cultural and imperial identity between East and West" (119). This theory seems to rest on the premise that the Portuguese transported these tapestries and displayed them in India (202 n.67). Here the reader longs to know more: how were these tapestries displayed and r eceived in the East? What other material objects -- natural or architectural -- were involved? To what extent were certain Asian societies already "textile-centric" and so primed to value tapestries in a particular way? And although the authors eschew the application of traditional art history, it would be interesting to know whether the Lion Hunt design was influenced by kingly hunting scenes from the Islamic world by manuscript painters like Bihzad or his predecessors from the Shiraz School. It might even be argued that such Islamic paintings were already "tapestry-like" to European eyes in their compositions (vertical perspective, floral motifs in the margins) as compared to mainstream European painting of the time.

Living bloodstock horses, luxury items with a military luster, were important to the self-presentation of rulers such as Henry VIII, Francois I, Charles V, Mehmet II, and Suleyman the Magnificent, and an international trade in these animals flourished among the courts. The authors' arguments about the connections among portrait medals, equestrian statues, living horses, and the "flicker-effect" that melded actual horses with visual representations of horses, are compelling. Francesco and Federico Gonzaga of Mantua, for instance, corresponded with the sultans Mehmet and Suleyman to obtain Arab and Persian horses, which were then portrayed in murals at their residences -- the same residences in which the actual horses were housed in exquisitely designed stables.

Although the central idea of "exchanging identities" argues for a reciprocal historical process, the book is weighted toward Western cultural productions arid perceptions. Also, the "East" (Byzantium, Persia, India, the Ottoman Empire) is far from monolithic, and these cultures could have been more closely individuated.
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Author:Bergstein, Mary E.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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