Objects of Exchange: Diplomatic Entanglements in Fifteenth-century Naples

Clark, Leah R. (2018). Objects of Exchange: Diplomatic Entanglements in Fifteenth-century Naples. Predella, 43-44 pp. 129–154.

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By focussing on the exchanges taking place in Naples, this study argues that Naples played a key role in shaping both a diplomatic culture as well as new approaches to the material world that emerged in fifteenth-century Italy. These developments were intrinsically linked to the convergence of cultures that such a port city occasioned, as Naples was a gateway, serving as the diplomatic contact zone for Eastern and Western ambassadors as well as a point of exchange for goods coming in and out of Europe. Records show that foreign embassies were recurrent throughout Aragonese rule, proffering gifts of exotic animals, as well as textiles, metalwork, ceramics, and other precious objects. This study investigates how these material goods were not merely stationary objects in Renaissance princely collections but pointed to the activities taking place within and outside the studiolo, acting as material memories of encounters, mercantile routes, and territorial expansion.

Naples was a site of mediation, an intersection of divergence and convergence, evident in the drawn out negotiations with the Ottoman and Mamluk empires throughout the fifteenth century. Such diplomatic entanglements are situated within fifteenth-century diplomacy more broadly, rather than a one-off event, or seen simply within an «East vs. West» dichotomy, providing new insight into how we understand this period and the emergence of a «new diplomacy». Central to these negotiations were material things—raw goods, aromatics, ceramics, textiles, and other art objects or luxury items—that served as the cogs in trade or were exchanged as diplomatic gifts to broker trade and politics. Naples is thus examined not as a passive consumer of goods from other centres, but rather an entrepôt that absorbed, translated and transformed foreign material cultures, artefacts, and motifs, moulding both a diplomatic culture as well as new approaches to the material world.

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