Alexandr Osipian

Alexandr Osipian

I Tatti/Getty Foundation Fellow
Oriental Carpets in Renaissance Art and Public Discourse: Cultural transfer Between the Middle East, Italy and Eastern Europe
2023-2024 (March - April)
Alexandr Osipian


Alexandr Osipian is a Research Fellow at the Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa (Leipzig), and has previously held postdoctoral positions at the George Washington University (Washington, DC), and the Free University of Berlin. He also served as a Visiting Professor at the University of Giessen. In 2014-2015 he took part in the Harvard University research project “From Riverbed to Seashore. Art on the Move in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean in the Early Modern Period.”He has subsequently published several articles on the history of long-distance trade and cultural transfer between the Middle East and Eastern Europe. His current research focuses on the transfer of carpets from the Middle East to Italy and Eastern Europe.

Project Summary

This project examines the social practices of consumption, appropriation and reinterpretation of oriental carpets in Italy, Poland-Lithuania, and Muscovy/Russia. Carpets from the Middle East came to Europe in great numbers between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries and contributed to the interplay of different cultural traditions. Western art historians have named some types of carpet patterns after the Renaissance artists - Bellini, Crivelli, Ghirlandaio, Lotto, and Holbein – who painted oriental rugs mainly as backdrops for religious scenes (Kurt Erdmann 1955, 1966). From the mid-sixteenth century, carpets were integrated into more secular contexts. In turn, European market demand also affected carpet production in the Middle East. This project analyzes how oriental carpets were used as an expression of power and social status, i.e. for coronation, wedding, and funeral ceremonies, painted on representative portraits of monarchs, hierarchs, and nobility. It explores the issues of social prestige and hierarchy of carpets through examining the inventories of noblemen and burghers. It thus shows how exogenous objects and forms were assimilated into political imaginaries. The comparative approach can help us understand the common patterns of carpet uses in such politically and culturally different countries as Italy, Poland-Lithuania, and Muscovy/Russia.