Early Modern Encounters #2

9 December 2021, 5:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Victoria Hobday, University of Melbourne
Professor Anne Dunlop, University of Melbourne

Session Moderators

Professor Anne Dunlop, University of Melbourne

Session Speakers

Arvi Wattel, University of Western Australia
Shiqiu Liu, University of Melbourne
Dr Victoria Hobday, University of Melbourne
Associate Professor Catherine Kovesi, University of Melbourne

The period between about 1250 and 1650 saw new and accelerating contact and exchange – of artists, patrons, places, materials, technologies, and objects- on an increasingly global scale. Some of these encounters were voluntary, and others forced (by war or colonization, for instance); some forms of encounter were themselves imagined through objects and artworks that moved, or written sources about other people, places and things.

PAPER #1
Lost in Translation: Dutch Seventeenth-century Silver for the Mughal Emperor

PRESENTER
Arvi Wattel, University of Western Australia

After 7 years in Mughal India, Francisco Pelsaert advised the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1627 to manufacture gold and silver “articles which are here in common use” as a means to increase their profit. All too aware Dutch gold- and silversmiths were not familiar with Mughal utensils, Pelsaert suggested he could explain their “style or fashion.” Yet, cultural translation worked both ways; Pelsaert insisted that, once they had been created in Amsterdam, the precious items should be sold in India by an agent “familiar with the language and customs of the country” – apparently afraid they would be misunderstood otherwise. The VOC trialled Pelsaert’s strategy, but its execution failed. This paper will focus on this brief, unique episode of Dutch-Indian cultural encounter and cross-cultural (mis)communication in an increasingly connected world. While hybrid and transcultural objects are commonly associated with the globalising developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the few silver VOC items that survive show how transcultural objects sometimes are the result of cultural mistranslation. These hybrid, culturally displaced objects reveal the wide cultural divide between the Dutch and Mughal.

PAPER #2
Saints and Lotus: Visualising Christianity in Yuan China

PRESENTER
Shiqiu Liu, University of Melbourne

In 1950s, two grave stones dated to the mid-fourteenth century with Latin inscriptions were discovered in Yangzhou, a prosperous commercial city in Yuan China to the north of Yangzi river. The two stones depict images of Christ, Mary and the Patron Saints of the deceased, but all in the Chinese linear drawing style mostly used in contemporary woodblock illustrations. They are rare examples of medieval images created in an East Asian port city for the Europeans. By the same time, there were also large groups of Christians of the Church of East (‘Nestorians’) living in China, who also adopted the Buddhist motif of lotus with the cross to demonstrate their religious belief. This paper will discuss the ‘translation’ methods used by the Yangzhou craftsmen to convey the Latin Christian images in the visual languages they are familiar with and by comparing the Yangzhou images with the major motif used contemporarily for the ‘Nestorians’, it will demonstrate their different approaches in emphasizing each’s distinct religious identity when they were encountering with each other in East Asia.

PAPER #3
An objects pilgrimage from utility to meaning: Gerrit Dou’s pilgrim flask

PRESENTER
Dr Victoria Hobday, University of Melbourne

In 1809 a 16th century Italian pilgrim flask was dug up in the sand dunes of southern Holland. The pilgrim flask that is placed prominently in the foreground of Gerrit Dou’s painting The Physician (1653) is similar to this flask now in the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge and prominently displays this foreign object in a curious painting. The definition of Pilgrim flasks is a slippery one that covers both the utilitarian flask that was used to hold water for drinking or alternatively holy water, as well as describing a decorative and embellished echo of this form created in different mediums from the Levant to Venice and later produced throughout Italy.The rise of the physician in the Netherlands coincided with the demise of pilgrimages across Northern Europe and Britain following the dispersion of relics and holy sites associated with Catholicism. Through this lens my paper questions the meaning of this particular object in Gerrit Dou’s small cabinet painting. How would this object have been perceived and why was it an object that Gerrit Dou used prominently in several of his small finely painted works?

PAPER #4
Searching for Marco Polo’s Unicorn: impacts of a legendary journey on the city of Venice

PRESENTER
Associate Professor Catherine Kovesi, University of Melbourne

On the floor of a prominent side chapel in the Basilica di San Marco, the most important religious edifice in the city of Venice, is a fourteenth-century mosaic of a rhinoceros. Though its precise date and its creator are both unknown, it certainly predates by several centuries the arrival of any living rhinoceros into Western Europe. This paper will argue that this little-known mosaic is the earliest representation of the world’s oldest living mammal in the western canon since Roman times. But, more importantly, it argues that the depiction of the animal’s precise lineaments derives from accounts by Marco Polo about his encounter with unicorns on the island of present-day Sumatra, accounts that also informed the representations of his journeyings on the wall of the Doge’s palace. The merging of unicorns and rhinoceroses in these representations resulted in very particular understandings of the behaviour and power of the latter. Beliefs in unicorns, their association with rhinoceroses, and Marco Polo’s descriptions of them will be argued, in addition, as playing a central role in the spiritual, political, and festal life of Venice.

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Biographies

Dr Victoria Hobday, University of Melbourne

Victoria Hobday lectures and teaches Renaissance art history at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include material and print culture, the intersection of art and science in early modern art and northern artists who worked with anatomists and scientists in the early modern period. She attained her doctorate and masters degrees at the University of Melbourne.


Professor Anne Dunlop, University of Melbourne

Anne Dunlop is the Herald Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne. She has also taught at Yale University and Tulane University. She works on Italian and European art in the later Middle Ages and early modern period, researching and writing on links between Italy and Eurasia in the Mongol period. She has been a Visiting Professor at Zhejiang University, Peking University and at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies.


Arvi Wattel, University of Western Australia

Arvi Wattel received his education from the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and is currently a lecturer in the History of Art at UWA (School of Design). He has held fellowships at the Fondazione Ermitage in Ferrara, the Kunsthistorisches Institut (Max Planck Gesellschaft) in Florence, the Dutch Institute for Art History in Florence and the Royal Netherlandish Institute in Rome. His research focuses on questions of centre and periphery, marginalization and alterity in Renaissance Italy and in a global perspective, particularly in Dutch seventeenth-century encounters with Asia and Australia.


Shiqiu Liu, University of Melbourne

Shiqiu Liu is a PhD candidate now in the University of Melbourne and her current research is on art works produced under the cultural exchanges stimulated by the Mongol rule of Eurasia in the fourteenth century, focusing especially on works made by professional artisans for those ethnically non-Chinese residences or believers of foreign religions in China during this period. She is interested in pre-modern artistic exchanges through cultural communications between China and other places, especially areas around East and Central Asia.


Associate Professor Catherine Kovesi, University of Melbourne

Catherine Kovesi is an historian at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely on sumptuary law and luxury consumption in Italy, and on the social, political and religious life of Florence and Venice. She is Chair of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies and serves on the editorial board of Brepols’ “Early Modern Europe” series. She is also co-General Editor of Bloomsbury’s forthcoming six-volume A Cultural History of Luxury. In 2018 she curated the exhibition ‘Rhinoceros: Luxury’s Fragile Frontier’ in the city of Venice and recently edited a special issue of Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption on the same topic.