Posted on 19 May 2020
The early modern period was an age of Islamic superpowers. As Suleiman the Magnificent blazed a trail of conquest from Buda to Baghdad, the Safavid and Mughal dynasties were establishing hegemony in Iran and India. Netherlandish artists responded in myriad ways. Rubens and Rembrandt copied Persian and Mughal miniatures. In the 1530s, Pieter Coecke van Aelst joined a diplomatic mission to Istanbul, while Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen accompanied Charles V on campaign to Tunis; both artists produced monumental tapestry designs based on first-hand observation. Turkish carpets in still life and portraits in oriental fancy-dress were signs of burgeoning trade with the East. Yet Muslims were enemies at the gates of Christendom, as emblematised by celebrations of victory at Lepanto in 1571. Black figures, a cipher of the slave trade in which Muslims were often mediators, make a regular appearance in Rubens’ bacchanals and Adorations of the Magi, calling into question early modern concepts of race. Such ambivalence and hostility are also manifest in Netherlandish art, as discussed by Larry Silver in his 2011 article on the “Turkish Menace”.
Islamic themes are gaining traction in the field. Two recent exhibitions in London and Los Angeles showcased drawings by Rubens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt of Ottoman, Persian and Mughal costumes. Topographical imagery such as De Bry’s Collection of Voyages has received significant scholarly treatment, as have Rubens’ African figures. This panel intends to further the global history agenda by highlighting the artistic exchange between Muslim-ruled territories and the Low Countries. While extant studies tend to focus on specific regions, artists or periods, this panel seeks continuity and common ground across the Netherlandish spectrum. In sketching a longer history of Orientalism before the nineteenth century, the panel will engage with associated hot-button issues such as colonialism, cultural appropriation and religious conflict.
Please send proposals of max. 500 words, along with a single-paged curriculum vitae, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 July 2020.