Mobile Things/Mobile Motifs: Transcultural Objects Across the Mediterranean

Long established trade routes and diplomatic exchanges resulted in a dizzying effect of transfer and imitation of motifs and objects between Italy and the Islamic world in early modernity. Inventories, ambassador reports, letters, and humanist texts indicate how descriptions of objects from ‘somewhere else’ might be pointing to mobility itself as a category of value, which places emphasis on circulation and exchange rather than a beginning and an end, opening up new ways to categorise objects that go beyond geographical boundaries. This paper will address what language contemporaries used to describe these objects, their motifs, and their origins. Far from straightforward, object descriptions often refer to style, designs, or patterns, or even the place of purchase, carrying geographical connotations that might be misleading for us today. The objects themselves can also offer clues, where motifs were copied across media from drug jars and tiles to incense burners and armour, an indication that the textual archive only tells us half the story.

Leah R Clark is an Associate Professor and Director of Studies in the History of Art in the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford as well as a Fellow at Kellogg College. Her research has explored the mobility and collection of art objects in the fifteenth century, while her more recent work has looked to the global exchange of objects with particular attention to their associated sensorial practices. Her publications include Courtly Mediators: Transcultural Objects Between Renaissance Italy and the Islamic World (Cambridge UP, 2023), Collecting Art in the Italian Renaissance Court: Objects and Exchanges (Cambridge UP, 2018), and European Art and the Wider World 1350-1550 (co-edited with Kathleen Christian, Manchester UP, 2017).