The PIMo series “Visual reflections” edited by Paola von Wyss-Giacosa
(University of Zurich) focuses on the cultural dimension of pictorial
and material sources, highlighting the importance of such documents for
our project and, more generally, for any research in the field of connected
histories. Some of the core themes of PIMo (people, things, ideas, and
paper in motion; cultural and emotional entanglements; histories of
migration, displacement, and dispossession) and some of the
thought-provoking approaches and insights of the scholars participating
in this multi-disciplinary endeavour concerned with histories of displacement
within and from the Mediterranean between the fifteenth and
twentieth centuries are presented here in short papers. The essays all
take an image as the point of departure for their reflections on the
multiple functions, meanings and expressions of the visual. The common
aim is to convey to a broader public the relevance and fascination of
investigations into the historicity of representation, into the long
lasting implications of media presence and circulation.

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

By |2020-10-22T09:53:40+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 [...]

Beatrice Falcucci, Omar Al-Mukhtar’s Glasses: A Modern Relic

By |2020-10-22T09:44:05+00:00October 22nd, 2020|Visual Reflections|

The aim of this brief document is to draw attention not only to totemic, highly symbolic objects and curiosa as three-dimensional evidence, but also to value hoaxes, forgeries and copies, which can be as interesting for researchers as the originals themselves, since, as Schlebecker (1977) pointed out, a replica can sometimes effectively substitute the “real thing”. Starting from Omar Al Mukthar's glasses (with which he was typically portrayed), stored in the warehouse housing the former Museo Coloniale of Rome, I will consider their “appearances” (in museums and shops) and evocations (on paper, in movies) in different contexts and scenarios, as they multiply like a modern-day relic. This short piece will also contribute to highlighting the extent to which the flow of (real or presumed) objects across the Mediterranean is deeply entangled in empire-building, nationalist reactions and postcolonial contestations. Omar Al-Mukhtar (18581931) is known as the martyr who sacrificed his life while trying to free Libya from Italian colonialism. On 3 October 1911, as the Italians bombarded Tripoli in the first act of what was to be known as the Italo-Turkish [...]

Claudia Stella Valeria Geremia, The Spanish Inquisition in the Canary Islands and Objects of Witchcraft (15th-18th centuries)

By |2020-05-25T17:54:24+00:00May 25th, 2020|Visual Reflections|

This research aims to study traditional practices of witchcraft and the circulation of witchcraft objects by examining the trial records of the Spanish Inquisition in the Canary Islands from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. The purpose is to focus on the cultural melting pot of the Canaries, where the so-called magic ritual practices of enslaved African people, coming from Maghreb and West Africa, merged with those of the indigenous people, also known as the Guanches, and the conversos. My research explores how people accused of being witches and wizards reused, replaced, and reconfigured the use of daily objects to perform magic rituals. Ordinary objects, such as scissors, mirrors, stones, and bags, became tools of magic in the hands of a witch. Inquisitors were often astonished when they found these items in the houses of people accused of being a witch. My hypothesis is that when the witch uses and puts into motion such objects, power and authority is conferred upon her. In other words, it is the relationship between the woman and how she uses the objects that makes [...]

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

By |2020-05-25T16:31:01+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, Turcimanarie e carte d’ogni sorte: Translation, Trade, and Paper in Sixteenth Century Venice

By |2020-05-15T07:59:47+00:00May 11th, 2020|Visual Reflections|

The heading of Riccardiana MS 2523 proclaims its nature as a record of prices and tariffs for merchants and goods trading with Damasco and the rest of Siria. This manuscript was one of the items on display in a recent exhibition organized by our PIMo COST Action at the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence (“Encounters at Sea: People, Paper, and Objects in Motion at the Riccardiana Library”). Dated on November 25th 1534, the tariffa was put together under the supervision of patricians who belonged to some of the most prominent Venetian families.   Tarriffa | di tutto quello si deue | mettere a conto alli ma[rca]| danti, et marcantie, si[a] | in Damasco, come in tutta | la Soria R[i]formata p[er] | il Clmo M. Piero Molino, | cons.  Insieme con li Magci  | M. Antonio Grimani fu |del magco. ms. Nico. Ms. Nico| Venier fu del mco.Ms. Ago≈|stino, et ms Vicenzo Mo≈|resini del Magco. M. Barbon | deputati, & eletti per | Conseglio, come per parte | presa appar sotto li.25.| di Nouembre.|M D XXX IIII   One of them [...]

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 [...]