Sarah Guérin:
Ivory Trade in the Age of Henry the Navigator: Shifting Worlds

What are the fundamental differences between medieval and Early Modern period? Many have indicated the revolutionary circulation of prints as the deciding factor distinguishing one period from the other. Yet the material substrate which presents such innovative iconographies and compositions can also be linked to seismic changes taking place on the social and political front. In this paper, I will examine morphological changes in the production of objects fabricated from elephant ivory towards the end of the fifteenth century and demonstrate how these changes in form are linked to the opening of the sea route along the West African coast during the age of the Portuguese Prince, Henry the Navigator (d. 1460). 

Sarah M. Guérin is Associate Professor of Medieval Art in the History of Art Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research centres on the material conditions of medieval art, with an emphasis on the socio-economic circumstances surrounding production and use, as well as the symbolic and affective potential of materials. These interests have led her to engage seriously with the material culture of Africa contemporary with the European Middle Ages, and especially the role trans-Saharan trade routes play in the medieval economic system. This research lead her to contributing, as a member of the steering committee and a catalogue author, to the award-wining exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, 2019-2022. In 2022, her monograph on French Gothic Ivories appeared with Cambridge University Press. The project that she presents at the KHI takes some of her concerns developed in regards to the Middle Ages and transposes them onto the dawn of the modern era. 

23 April 2024, 11:00am

This will be a hybrid event. 

Please register here for online attendance. 

Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz
Via Giuseppe Giusti 49
Casa Zuccari
Sala Terrena
50121 Firenze, Italia

Please note that seating is limited.


This event will be documented photographically and/or recorded on video. Please let us know if you do not agree with the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz using images in which you might be recognizable for event documentation and public relation purposes (e.g. social media).


Our Newsletter provides you with free information on events, tenders, exhibitions and recent publications from the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.

If you would like to receive our newsletter, please enter your name and e-mail address:

*required field

Notes on the content of the newsletter and transit procedures

This letter is sent via MailChimp, where your e-mail address and name will be saved for sending the newsletter.

Once you have completed the form, you will receive a "Double-Opt-In-E-Mail," in which you are asked to confirm your registration. You can cancel your subscription to the Newsletter at any time ("Opt-out"). You will find an unsubscribe link in every Newsletter and in the Double-Opt-in-E-Mail.

You will receive detailed information about transit procedures and your withdrawal options in our privacy policy.