The Art of Diplomacy: Artistic Exchange Between Italy and Safavid Iran, 1600–1700

Alexandria Brown-Hedjazi | Samuel H. Kress Foundation

Anthony Van Dyck, Portrait of Teresiana Sampsonia Sherley, 1622, Rome, Oil on canvas, 2140 x 1290 mm, Petworth House and Park, West Sussex.

My dissertation examines artistic and diplomatic exchange between Italy and Iran during the seventeenth century, with a focus on Safavid embassies to Rome, Florence and Venice. Originally sent to establish an alliance against the Ottomans, the embassies initiated artistic exchange between Iran and Italy that has yet to be explored. This dissertation highlights new findings from three overlooked areas: trade routes in luxury goods (silk harvested near the Caspian Sea in exchange for mirrored Venetian glass); architectural exchanges (the Italianate fortress in Kandahar and the unrealized design for a lapis lazuli dome in Florence); as well as architectural traces of minority communities (Safavid Shi’a converts in Rome and Discalced Carmelites in Isfahan). Collectively, the multi-city format promotes an understanding of global aspects of artistic actions in individual places by the unexamined ripple effects of reciprocal actions and influences. This structure reflects the core values of my project, and will contribute to a more culturally sensitive approach to art history that breaks away from center-periphery models and cultural binaries. By examining what traveled east as well as what traveled west, this dissertation provides the first book-length art historical study of Italian-Iranian exchange from both perspectives.


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