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'Otherness’ in Space and Architecture

Jews, Muslims and Christians in Western European Art (1200-1650)

Maria Portmann

This conference proceeding (Sessions on "Otherness in Space and Architecture", International Medieval Conference, Leeds, 2017 and 2018) is a compilation of articles written by both young and senior scholars, who are working on the question of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ in Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures. The articles examine how material, ‘oriental’ objects and knowledge originating in non-Western communities helped building and strengthening the identity of Iberia’s, southern France and northern Italian nobility and its lineages. It is shown how, in the perception of Christians, the public image of Jews and Moslems became constructed as that of adversaries, while their cultural knowledge, at the same time, would be integrated into Christian culture in a paradox manner, in which the ‘self’ necessarily depends on the ‘other’ and how visual tensions in art and space have been used as symbols of power.

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9. Tribute to Caesar: The Medicis’ Giraffe: (Alessandra Mascia)


Alessandra Mascia

The preamble to this story: after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks approached Italy, conquering Otranto in 1450. In the European public life of the time, the hostility manifested in words against the Turks was secretly accompanied by a conciliatory approach, justified by the hope of conquering a promising market there and of forming a new political alliance that could prove to be strategic. In Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici had maintained relationships with the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II; however, he also maintained them with the Mamluk, the sultan of Egypt, thus benefiting from a not dissimulated rivalry between them.

As a result of these relationships, on November 11, 1487, Ibn-Mahfuz, ambassador of Qa’it Bey the Mamluk, arrived in Florence, guiding a diplomatic mission466. The Florentine chronicler Luca Landucci remembers the gifts that he brought. Most of them were exotic animals and among them were a big lion, goats, very strange geldings and a very beautiful giraffe, which is still visible today, according to the chronicler, in several places in the city of Florence.467 The iconographic fortune of such a rare animal was emphasized by the commentator who recalled the magnificent staging that the Florentine people had been witness to a few days later, when the official delivery of the gifts had taken place:

On November 18, 1487, the embassy from the sultan already cited […] was sitting on the terrace of the lords, in the middle of the Signoria place, talking...

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