Research project: Holy princesses, traveling king and foreign characters. A research on the late Medieval vision of the Orient through the study of precious textiles’s representation in the Italian XIV century painting
Starting from my previous researches on the Italian silk art in the XIII-XIV centuries and using an interdisciplinary approach, the project considers the textile medium in a wider socio-cultural contest, focusing on the central role of the silk objects in the Mediaeval world. In particular it analyses the origin and the developments of the binomial “Silk-Orient”, typical of the European thought from the Ancient to the Modern Age, evaluating the role of the precious materials and manufactures in the creation of the image of Orient and in the reception of different cultural realities. The attention will be focused on the pictorial sources, regarded as an amplified mirror of the mindset and the practices related to the use of the silk in the late Middle Ages Italian society, to investigate the cultural implications of the fortune of the Oriental textiles in the West market. Rich foreign silks are very often shown in the Italian painting of XIV century. This phenomenon is surely due to the taste of the patronage and to the working habits in the painters’ workshops of the period. On the other hand, the oriental textile quotations could be also considered as a sign of the real or imaginary geographic origin of the represented characters, a sort of visual mark pointing to the exotic and far off features of the picture. A catalogue of paintings of three subjects, often wearing Asian silks, is being formed to explore this hypothesis, namely Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the Three Wise Men and the generic oriental figures appearing in many sacred histories (like the soldiers in the crucifixion scene). The structure of the catalogue follows a dual criterion: textiles and clothes’ typologies, compared with material evidences, and the paintings’ place of origin (by means of a regional census). These criteria show those works that were more frequently associated with the characters and analyze the artistic tendencies of the different areas in connection with the local luxury market. The results will become part of a comprehensive reflection about the concept of Orient in the occidental world of XIV century and its historical evolution. This consideration will also investigate the problem of exoticism, considered as one of the most recurrent instrument of the West history to define its own identity.