“Visual reflections”, the PIMo series edited by Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (University of Zurich), focuses on the cultural dimension of pictorial and material sources, highlighting their importance for the project and more generally for research in the field of connected histories.
Some of PIMo’s core themes – people, things, ideas, and paper in motion; cultural and emotional entanglements; histories of migration, displacement, and dispossession – and a cross-section of the stimulating approaches taken by participants in this multi-disciplinary project about histories of displacement within and from the Mediterranean (15th–20th centuries) are presented here.
Each short essay takes an image as a point of departure for reflecting on the multiple functions, meanings and expressions of the visual. The common aim is to share with a wider readership the relevance and fascination of exploring the historicity of representation, and the enduring implications of media presence and circulation.

Nasser Rabbat, Where Europe Begins and Where It Ends?

By |2021-06-11T09:28:07+00:00June 11th, 2021|Visual Reflections|

It is said in the myths of the Greeks that the Phoenician Princess Europa was playing on the seacoast of her city of Tyre with her attendants when she was lured by the great Greek God Zeus who had disguised himself as a white bull and abducted her to Crete where he made her queen. Figure 1 : Titian, The Rape of Europa, ca. 1560/1562, oil on canvas, Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, Boston. Source: Commons.wikimedia.org Europa eventually gave her name to the continent north of Greece in a clear symbolic reference to the passing of Civilization from the East Mediterranean to the continent that was hitherto nameless, and thus unselfconscious.  This mythical cycle was completed by the story of Cadmus, Europa’s brother who was sent by his father, the king of Tyre, to look for his kidnaped sister.  Cadmus did not find her, but he ended up settling in Greece and founding the city of Thebes, of which he became king.  He then taught the Greeks the Phoenician alphabet, from which the Greek alphabet was derived; that is, Cadmus gave [...]

Lucas Burkart, Marco Polo on the Pearl River Delta: The Venetian Middle Ages and Italy’s Colony in China

By |2021-06-11T10:44:42+00:00June 4th, 2021|Visual Reflections|

Visitors to the Museo Correr in Venice expect venezianità – and are duly rewarded by the museum’s exhibits and style of presentation: dogal portraits, paintings of the lagoon city, the piazzetta, the Rialto bridge or the church of Santa Maria della Salute. The collection, originally assembled during the first third of the nineteenth century, has since perpetuated an image of Venice’s past as historical grandeur. The late romantic vision of John Ruskin’s “The Stones of Venice” (1851) provided its programmatic foundations; today’s mass tourism with between 20 and 30 million yearly visitors reflects it in the same way as the Venice Time Machine project: a factory of dreams! Figure 1: Marco Polo, c. 1880, H118cm, W78cm, D55cm, Museo Correr, Venice, inv. Cl. XIX 0172. ©Musei Veneziani. Since 1881, the collection also contains a wooden, almost life-size seated figure, which doesn’t quite fit this impression (Fig. 1). Its eyes and facial traits, the moustache, the long robe as well as its gesture and the posture of the right leg and foot appear as if they stem from a different (dream) world. [...]

Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli, Piety and Pawnbroking: Decorated Account Books.

By |2021-05-18T11:31:30+00:00May 18th, 2021|Visual Reflections|

The first Monti di Pietà or mounts of piety, public banks that provided solidaristic credit, date from the 1460s. It is generally thought that the first was founded in Perugia in 1462, while the Monte di Bologna opened its doors about a decade later, in 1473. The service offered was similar to that of the loan bank-pawnbrokers mainly managed by Jewish bankers that had been present in almost all towns in Italy since the 13th century. The Monti differed from this previous institution in a significant  way. First of all, from the outset they were public institutions whose aim was to meet citizens’ economic needs by offering a service that could be classed as providing a form of welfare. Another significant difference lay in their target of customers, the so-called pauperes pinguiores (the least poor of the poor), to whom they granted small loans at favourable conditions requiring the sole reimbursement of 5% per annum in management fees, with the aim to help the clients to get through periods of misfortune. But the key novelty of the Monte’s service was [...]

Giorgio Giacosa, Trade wars and counterfeiting in the Mediterranean: The zecchino of Venice and the imitations and counterfeits issued by the republic’s rivals in a ruthless trade war.

By |2021-05-18T23:05:07+00:00April 28th, 2021|Visual Reflections|

The Mediterranean has always been the seam between East and West, between different ethnic groups and civilizations often in bitter conflict but bound together by a web of enduring economic and trading interests. In this context, in the last four centuries of the Middle Ages, some of the Italian maritime cities, driven by strong political and economic revival in Europe, embarked upon a policy of expansion towards the East, supported by the construction of powerful trading and military fleets. The extreme decadence of the Byzantine Empire, mercilessly highlighted by the Crusades, together with the gradually increasing strength of the hostile Muslim potentates in Asia Minor and North Africa, prompted the Italian and Catalan maritime cities to adopt an out-and-out policy of force to consolidate ever-more widespread and deep-rooted trading interests. Such a policy inevitably triggered conflicts and wars between the maritime cities themselves. Two of these, Genoa and Venice, emerged victorious in these struggles. Destined to dwarf every other trading power in the Mediterranean, at the same time they would be in a perpetual state of conflict with each other [...]

Rolando Minuti, “Provence africaine”. Natural Science and Ideology of the Mediterranean

By |2021-03-01T18:05:44+00:00October 22nd, 2020|Visual Reflections|

In his reports, in the Annales du Museum national d'histoire naturelle (1802), of the results of his zoological research following Bonaparte's expedition in Egypt, there was no hiding Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s great satisfaction. The mere discovery of the Polypterus bichir, he wrote, "would make up for all the effort that a long-distance journey usually entails." It was indeed an important discovery, one of several made by Geoffroy during his scientific journey. The study of the anatomy of this unique fish gave a substantial contribution to his thesis about the anatomic evolution of the species; it was also particularly interesting as living evidence of the ancient Egyptians’ "fish of the Nile", whose theogony Geoffroy investigated in another memoir in the same year. (Fig. 1) But there was also another and more general reason for Geoffroy's enthusiasm in describing his zoological discovery. In effect, these discoveries were also a great relief, if we are to reflect on what had happened to other natural scientists, mainly botanists, who had performed painstaking research in Egypt to look for new species to add to the universal [...]

Chiara Cecalupo, Movement of Ideas: Giovanni Francesco Abela of Malta and his collection under European, Italian and Roman influence

By |2021-03-01T18:10:04+00:00May 25th, 2020|Visual Reflections|

From 1550, Ulisse Aldrovandi, one of the most important scholars of Bologna, began to collect the objects that would be the founding nucleus of his museum, in particular dried fish and natural objects. The growth of his collection went hand in hand with his scientific and teaching experiences (when he began to teach botany and mineralogy, the section of the herbarium took shape) and with his growing contacts with many scholars in Europe. This allowed him to receive substantial donations of objects, but also to become a reference point for every early-Baroque private collectors of antiquities and curiosities. His museum was hosted in his house in Via del Vivaro in Bologna, where the objects were arranged in four rooms contiguous to the library, in which were kept books, manuscripts and drawings. The collection was a visual appendix to the library, and proved extremely varied, in order to give an effect of simultaneous evocation of natural heritage (naturalia) and the intelligence of men (artificialia) through the centuries. There was a very wide typological, diachronic and geographical discrepancy and, following the typically [...]

Chiara M. Mauro, Vives Escudero and the rising interest in Phoenicio-Punic archaeology in Spain

By |2020-05-25T17:52:18+00:00May 25th, 2020|Visual Reflections|

Vives Escudero and the rising interest in Phoenicio-Punic archaeology in Spain   Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the rising interest in Phoenicio-Punic antiquities fostered an intense movement of ideas amongst different scholars. Such a flow aimed at developing a framework for studying the Phoenicio-Punic culture, poorly known until that time. Although some Phoenicio-Punic items were already known in the 18th century, when they were forming part of European nobles’ and bourgeois’ private collections, it was not until the 19th century that a real interest in Phoenicio-Punic culture eventually developed. From the second half of the 19th century onwards, Phoenicio-Punic objects began, in fact, to be studied not only for their artistic value but mostly in light of the importance they had in relation to Phoenician presence along the Mediterranean shore. In Spain, amongst the main actors involved in this changing cultural scenario, there was certainly Antonio Vives, one of the most controversial figures in Spanish historiography (Fig. 1). Fig. 1: Antonio Vives y Escudero (1859-1925). The date of origin of [...]

José María Pérez Fernández, How To Do Things with Paper in King Lear

By |2020-05-12T08:46:27+00:00April 30th, 2020|Visual Reflections|

EDMUND: If the matter of this paper be certain, you have mighty business in hand CORNWALL: True or false, it hath made thee Earl of Gloucester. King Lear, 3.5.15-18 (All quotations are from the Arden Shakespeare edition, London, 2016) This exchange in the third act of Shakespeare’s King Lear reveals the role of paper as a trope that denotes the messages recorded in this medium alongside their performative power. Edmund, the arch-villain in the play, plots to betray his father, Gloucester, and his half-brother, Edgar, for the sake of self-promotion at court. He does so by weaving an intricate web of letters that manipulate the opinions and views of powerful political agents at court. It is no less significant that in his exchange with Cornwall, the latter claims that the consequences of the “matter of this paper” will take effect irrespective of their veracity. That paper will, indeed, will bring about Gloucester’s downfall and elevate Edmund to his title instead (1.2.1-182, in particular 1.2.23-61). Paper matters of this sort do not just constitute the semiotic infrastructure for Edmund’s strategy: they [...]

Iain Chambers, ‘A molecular Mediterranean and metaphysical shipwrecks’

By |2020-03-31T15:10:57+00:00December 2nd, 2019|Visual Reflections|

A consistently and purely maritime perspective on the land is difficult for a territorial observer to comprehend. Our common language constructs its markers quite self-evidently from the land. Carl Schmitt, Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation   Reflection is the courage to make the truth of our own presupposition and the realm of our own goals into the things that most deserve to be called into question. Martin Heidegger, ‘The Age of the World Picture’   Schmitt and Heidegger: two deeply conservative thinkers, and both directly associated with Nazism, who nevertheless leave us with a radical interrogation of the manner and method of our thinking. As in all Occidental philosophy, what they have to say is bound to the negated geography of their language. There are no bodies here, and certainly no others; or rather the latter are displaced and reduced to the excluded world upon which they build their pronouncements. Both thinkers are obsessed with the West’s worlding of the world. Although they never give up on the white myth of the universalism of their thinking, they do take [...]

Susan Broomhall, ‘Hercules at the Hippodrome: Cycles of displacement across the Mediterranean’

By |2020-05-13T13:46:46+00:00September 9th, 2019|Visual Reflections|

At the turn of the sixteenth century, a young boy, the son of a Greek Christian sailor from Parga, was forcibly taken from his home, sold to a widow in Manisa who educated the intelligent child and taught him the violin, an instrument he learned to play “to perfection”. Later, he would become the property of a young prince who was born the very same week as himself, a youth who would become Sultan Süleyman I. Such were some of the tales of origins that were told by and about this intriguing Muslim convert to Christian ambassadors who wrote with fascination about the powerful, trusted official of the sultan, İbrahim Paşa (1493/4?–1536). To read the reports of those Christians, İbrahim Paşa never lost his interest in the Christian world that vied with the Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean at this period. They noted optimistically the tastes of the sultan’s wily grand vizier for luxury art and design from the West and of friendships cultivated with Christian advisors. After the 1526 Ottoman victory over the Kingdom of Hungary, led [...]