Dr Stefano Carboni will give the Opening Keynote address at the CAIS 'Three Languages, Three Cultures: Narratives from the Middle East' Conference. His paper is entitled - Venice and its Artistic Relationship with the Islamic World: A tale of many languages and cultures.
When the celebrated Venetian painter Gentile Bellini was sent by the Serenissima Republic to spend two years at the court of Mehmet II the Conqueror in Istanbul in 1479, an important moment in the cultural and artistic relationship between Venice and the Islamic world took place. Venice, however, had been engaged in trade and diplomatic and cultural exchange with the Arab and Persian regions for centuries before Bellini’s journey. The Republic’s pragmatic approach to the relationship with her trading partners in the Near and Middle East, the establishment of Venetian mercantile communities protected by the presence of officially recognized consuls and a no-nonsense attitude in religious matters inevitably favoured a better and deeper understanding of each other’s way of life with the consequent development of cultural and artistic ties and cross-influences. The wealthy Venetian merchants who shuttled between their city and the important centres of Alexandria, Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul, Trebizond and Tabriz and spent extended periods in these outposts also began to appreciate the local culture, speak its language and understand and respect Islamic customs. This can be rightfully described as the true “Orientalist” phase in Venetian artistic production, whereby this term does not have the same colonial or westernized connotation that distinguishes its 18th- and 19th-century modes because it is based on a better understanding of, and synergy with, a culture that is seen as the “other” but not in confrontational or derisive terms. No other city or European power from the Medieval and Renaissance periods can claim the complex and mutual closeness to the Arab and Turkish world that Venice enjoyed for many centuries. The period spanning the 15th and 16th centuries represents a true “moment of vision” in the fecund relationship between two apparently distant cultures.
Stefano Carboni has been the Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth since October 2008. Previously he was Curator and Administrator in the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Visiting Professor at the Bard Graduate Center in New York. He joined the curatorial staff at the Metropolitan Museum in 1992 after completing his graduate studies in Arabic and in Islamic Art at the University of Venice and his PhD in Islamic Art at the University of London. At The Metropolitan Museum he was responsible for a large number of exhibitions, including the acclaimed Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797 (2006–2007). His publications include authoring and editing several exhibition catalogues, among which is the recent The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting: A Study of the Ilkhanid London Qazvīnī (2015). Stefano has lectured widely and taught regular courses in Islamic Art and Curatorial Studies at the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU), Hunter College (CUNY), and the Bard Graduate Center for the Decorative Arts in New York. He is currently Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia and lectures widely in Islamic Art and Curatorial Studies in addition to all other activities related to his directorship.