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The Virtuous. Political Communication between the Italian States and the Ottoman Court in the Age of Mehmet II (1453 – 1481)

Luc Wodzicki

During the reign of Mehmet II (1453 – 1481) 'virtue' became a central concept in Italian–Ottoman political communication. This was facilitated by a partially shared history of formulating and applying virtue ethics. Centre-piece to this tradition is an idea that runs from Greek through Islamic deep into Ottoman and Italian thought: virtue maintains stability in a society. Based on this claim, my project argues that in political communication virtue concepts are much more than an aspect of well-regulated conduct. Virtue is the underlying mediator in an intersecting language of expressing legitimacy and authority.
In three case studies I shed light on (1) virtue as a reciprocal concept, (2) virtue as a quality of the cultural mediator, and (3) virtue as basis for the construction of a common past. Thereby, I analyze materials, such as letters, treatises, and works dedicated to the Sultan, in various languages. But the exchange on the basis of virtue ethics did not take place in textual form alone. Upon request by Mehmet II a number of Italian artists created portrait-medals with his likeness. The explicit quality of these medals lay in capturing, preserving, and communicating the virtue of the portrayed. When the study of political communication is concerned with the intentions and the means actors used to influence their political environment, a focus on virtue can help to view trans-cultural relations in the Mediterranean from a new angle.

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