The Question of Tartar Textiles: Dante, Cangrande I della Scala, and the Vatican Archive

Lecture | October 2 | 4 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Mariachiara Gasparini, Academic Year Adjunct Lecturer, Santa Clara University

 UC Berkeley Mongolia Initiative, Tang Center for Silk Road Studies, The Program for the Study of Italy, IES

The Chinese-Islamic cultural encounter in Central Asia found its maximum expression with the Pax Mongolica in territories that, although vast in area, became similar in aesthetic culture, and brought into existence a unique “dress code” among various social classes from China to Italy. Similarly to the Tang, in the thirteenth century, the Mongols established their domain with a multicultural policy which was inclusive of all those artistic and religious processes that created a Eurasian production of textiles and costumes. Often found under the name of “Tartar,” these compounds appear very similar in style although different in technique and material.

Before the Mongols, however, the Crusades had already created an occasion for the four Italian Maritime Republics to establish their own colonies in Eastern territories, and to trade textiles and other luxury objects. Original meanings of patterns and inscriptions were often lost in translation, transmission, and re-interpretation of the textiles traded in Trans Mediterranean areas. It was in Southern Italy that those items were first acquired and reproduced, not without arousing astonishment in the Italian society, which described them as strange (strani) and marvelous (meravigliosi).

The Royal Ṭirāz Workshop established in Palermo, possibly around the twelfth century, was a major step in the advent of the Italian textile production that moved only between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth to Lucca (when, coincidentally, a few Italian merchants reached mainland China), and Tartar patterns were reinterpreted as pure decorative or “exotic motifs.” Same patterns began to appear not only on textile grounds but also on paintings and as architectural elements.

Through a visual and textual analysis, based on Eastern and Western textiles, and written sources preserved in the Vatican Archive in Rome, this paper analyzes the so-recorded panni tartarici, which still today, no without questions, represent an example of pre-modern cultural and artistic interaction between various Eurasian societies that, thanks to the Mongols, found a universal style.

 ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809