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KALAMAZOO 2011: Session 92 – Thursday, May 12, 2011: In Giro: Italian Identity and Travel in the Middle Ages

KALAMAZOO 2011: Session 92 – Thursday, May 12, 2011: In Giro: Italian Identity and Travel in the Middle Ages



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In Giro: Italian Identity and Travel in the Middle Ages

Sponsor: Italians and Italianists at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Rachel D. Gibson (University of Minnesota–Twin Cities)

Presider: Rachel D. Gibson

Defining a Merchant Identity and Aesthetic in Pisa: Muslim Ceramics as Commodities, Mementos, and Decoration on Eleventh-Century Churches

Mathews, Karen (University of Miami)

What did the inhabitants of Pisa think when they saw the articles in Church that imitated those in their homes?

Bowls were hung in shops, clearly indicating them as objects for sale. The famous Pisa Griffin is considered plunder, but there is no evidence of spoils of war. Pisans just wanted certain objects to be seen that way; they were most likely gifts from Islamic rulers.

The Basilica of San Piero a Grado: the bacini symbolizes Pisa’s entry to the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean. Bacini are ceramic bowls. Basins were an early sort of advertising; merchants could create stories about them. Basins are considered as memory spaces. The placement of bacini on exterior of merchant churches detailed, like maps, the journeys of Italian merchants. The church of Sant’ Andrea (early 12th century) houses an extensive collection of bacini.There are churches, such as San Matteo, in Pisa that were commissioned and filled with exotic Islamic objects. Artwork in Pisa was highly innovative, not at all the status quo. Pisa shares greater similarities with Amalfi or Venice and Sardinia, in which trade with Islamic countries came together to form a distinct merchant identity.

Cittadini Fiorentini, Nobiles Regni Hungariae: Florentine Merchants’ Identity in the Medieval Hungarian Kingdom

Prajda, Katalin (Instituto Universita Europeo)

Congress Travel Award Winner

  • During the late 15th century, some Florentine merchants became citizens of Hungary. This paper examines this diaspora by looking at terms where they are describing their own identity and comparing the Hungarian descriptions.
  • Florentine families developed a kind of ‘double identity”, many of whom who had deep ties in both countries. Italicus/Galicus – described Italians and everyone who spoke romance languages. Fiorentini – was the description of Florentines of themselves.
  • Some Florentines received citizenship and became subjects of the Hungarian realm. Florentine merchants managed to navigate between two or more political entities.
  • Italian names were made Hungarian between 1387-1437. Prajda showed a chart of Florentine citizens. e.g., Pippo di Stefano Scolari became Pippo de Ozora.

    Marriage was the most determining factor in deciding identity. It was easier to obtain citizenship, local rights and properties through marriages. The Florentines lived as expats, and only maintained a skeleton of a household at home to keep their finances going in Florence. They gained privileges and access to merchant circles through such alliances. Unfortunately, in terms of property ownership, when the Hungarian widow died, the property was passed to the crown, not to her Italian husband. In spite of their language differences, Florentines shared a mutual city-life living experience. Merchants of both Italian and Hungarian communities were permitted to elect their own judges. Florentine merchants were encouraged to maintain their privileges in their host society. An outstanding figure of Florentine diaspora was Pippo di Stefano Scolari (1369 – 1426). He married a local nobleman’s daughter which helped him integrate into Hungarian upper society while maintaining his status back in Florence. The Scolari left significant marks on the Hungarian landscape; they founded several religious institutions and made gifts to Hungary through the arts. Florentine merchants obtained nobility also by royal donation, and this allowed them to integrate into Hungarian society.

“Greetings from Paris”: A New Italian Identity at the End of the Middle Ages

Pelucani, Claudio (Universita degli Studi di Firenze)

During the 13th century, Paris became prominent in education. Many international students came to Paris to study. It was considered the cultural capital of Europe, and Italians were no exception.What were their feelings towards Paris? There were those who celebrated Paris, those who for religious reasons recognized it for it’s religious role, and lastly, those who thought Paris is just a myth.

Dante rarely mentions Paris. It’s only mentioned twice as a first class cultural centre.Petrarch mentions Paris in his letters as, the ‘Capital of the world and the Queen of cities’.In ancient times, people sought knowledge in Athens, in the Middle Ages, they sought knowledge in Paris. Petrarch recalls visiting Paris in his youth in 1333. He spent time checking if this myth of Paris was true or false. Petrarch was disappointed; we shouldn’t believe everything we hear about Paris. It was not the be all end all of collections of books and libraries.

The myth of Paris is still intact; the city of Paris as the jewel of Europe. The Italian attitude towards Paris, before Petrarch, was that it was undisputed cultural capital of the Christian world. After the Middles Ages, Humanists changed their view of this and decided the myth was overblown. There was plenty of political propaganda to make Paris seem grand.


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