Thursday Seminar. “Auspicious Signs”: Islamic Art and Scholarship in the ‘Bologna Nexus’


Thursday, May 2, 2024, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


I Tatti

Speaker: Anna Contadini (I Tatti / SOAS University of London)

My current project focuses on the collections of Islamic art, manuscripts, and the documentation on them, in Bologna, with some reference to those in the related centres of Modena, Ferrara, and Mantua. Aligned by common interests, and connected diplomatically and by dynastic ties, these cities are conceptualized here, for the first time, as what I call the “Bologna Nexus”.


These centers promoted the acquisition of artefacts and supported scholarly interest in them, with the ancient university of Bologna at their center attracting scholars and artists interested in the intellectual and artistic heritage of the Islamic world. In Bologna, disciplines such as medicine, science, philosophy and astrology were taught on the basis of Latin translations of Arabic texts, already carried out in the 12th and 13th centuries, with Italian scholars who continued, with their commentaries, to transmit and increase this knowledge until at least the 17th century.


The Bologna Nexus was a magnet for dealers, collectors, artists, and scholars. Unique but little studied, the materials in its collections form what I call a “stratigraphy” extending from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. The project, to culminate in a monograph to be published, analyses their contribution to European art and thought and, by exploring the transmission of knowledge that accompanied them, highlights the importance of adopting a decolonizing lens for the study of the cultures and arts of the Islamic world. This critical approach to translocation and reception is central to the first stage of the project, the exhibition Conoscenza e libertà, currently being shown at the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna.


Anna Contadini is Professor of the History of Islamic Art at SOAS University of London. Her main areas of research are illustrated book culture of the Islamic world; object studies; translocation and transculturation; and artistic and cultural contacts between Europe and the Islamic world. She graduated in Arabic and Islamic Art at Venice University, and obtained a Diploma in piano from the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello. She then obtained a PhD in Islamic Art at SOAS, and was appointed Research Fellow in Islamic Studies at the V&A. She then took positions as Lecturer in Islamic Art at Trinity College and Curator of the Islamic Collections of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, before taking up a position at SOAS. Professor Contadini serves on numerous international Peer-Reviewing and Editorial, Scientific, and Advisory Boards. She has won several prizes and honours, including the Paris Collège de France medal for “the intellectual merits and world contribution to the history of art” in 2019. She has held visiting professorships at Leiden, Heidelberg and Bologna Universities, Paris’ Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Harvard University, and at I Tatti. Her latest publications are the results of long standing projects, and incude: The Pisa Griffin and the Mari-Cha Lion. Metalwork, Art, and Technology in the Medieval Islamicate Mediterranean (concept, author and editor), Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2018; “The Middle Eastern Intellectual and Artistic Context at the Time of Ariosto”, in Mario Casari et al. (eds), Ariosto and the Arabs, I Tatti Research Series 4, 2022; “Intertextual Animals: Illustrated Kaliila wa-Dimna Manuscripts in Context”, in Éloïse Brac de la Perrière et al. (eds), Les périples de Kalila et Dimna, Brill, 2022.

She is presently working on Islamic Art and Scholarship: the Bologna Nexus, to be published by Brill next year. Part of this project includes an exhibition and catalogue entitled “Conoscenza e Libertà. Arte islamica al Museo Civico Medievale di Bologna”.




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