Style Guide: Renaissance Influences from Beyond Europe
Initially, the lands around the Islamic cultures of the Mediterranean were the main source of imported luxury goods. This changed in the 16th century, when Europeans established sea routes to China and Japan. Eastern craftsmen sometimes adapted their goods to western taste and lifestyles. European producers, meanwhile, were influence by the form and decoration of the imported goods, and also tried to reproduce the techniques used by their eastern counterparts
The leaf motifs that decorated Islamic objects originated in ancient Rome. Middle Eastern artists copied and adapted the scrolling vines and acanthus foliage that could be seen on Roman buildings. Muslim potters working in Christian Spain continued these decorative traditions, as did artists elsewhere in Europe In the 16th century, these spiral patterns, with plant stems and curved, pointed leaves, became known in the West as ‘arabesques’.
Blue and White Wares
Patterns in blue and white were popular in the Middle East from the 14th century. Middle Eastern potters took these patterns from the blue and white porcelain imported from China. Later, their designs were imitated in Europe. After, 1513, however, the Portuguese established direct trade with China. Wealthy Europeans then began to commission blue and white porcelain for themselves, sometimes in large quantities
Design for Export
European commissions led craftsmen in Asia to adopt new forms for their goods. They produced tableware and furnishings suited to European taste and context. Japanese craftsmen made lidded beer tankards with handles. Chinese potters turned shallow tea bowls into deeper serving vessels. Turkish weavers adapted the design of their carpets to high-legged western tables.
Imitating Non-European Techniques
Lacquer and porcelain from China were imitated by Middle Eastern craftsmen. The objects they made were copied in turn by Italian craftsmen, who adapted their imitations to European taste. Lustre, meaning the decoration of ceramics with a golden sheen, was a Middle Eastern technique also used in Muslim Spain. By the 16th century Italian potters had succeeded in reproducing the technique and were using it to decorate vessels of European form and ornament.
Porcelain, with underglaze blue decoration, and metal stopper
Museum no. 237-1892
Forlì pavement tile
Painted tin-glazed earthenware
Museum no. 30-1866
Wood covered with black and gold lacquer inlaid with mother-of-pearl
Museum no. FE.23-1982
Hand knotted woollen pile, on woollen warp and weft
Museum no. 151-1883
Porcelain painted in underglaze cobalt blue
Museum no. C.477-1918
Beechwood with panels of painted bone and bronze handles
Museum no. 217-1866
Sultan Mehmed II (1432 - 1481)
Mehmed II was ruler of the Ottoman Empire. In 1453 he captured Constantinople and with it the greatest church in Christendom, Hagia Sophia, which he preserved as a trophy of the Ottoman conquest. But his interest in Christian art was not purely political. He preserved the Byzantine mosaics in Hagia Sophia and collected Christian relics. Mehmed also patronised Christian artists. After a peace treaty was signed with Venice in 1479, Mehmed asked the Senate to send him ‘a good painter who knows how to make portraits’.
Gentile Bellini (about 1429 - 1507)
In 1479, Mehmed II welcomed the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini to his court. The sultan was anxious to have a painter who could paint life-like portraits of himself and his entourage. Mehmed’s commissions required Bellini to make close studies of Turkish costume. Bellini was able to incorporate these studies in works he made on his return to Venice. In turn, his representations of Turks were studied by contemporaries such as the German artist Albrecht Dürer.
Francesco I de’Medici (1541 - 1587)
Francesco I de’Medici was the first European ruler to investigate the secret of Chinese porcelain. He set up a workshop in Florence around 1565, with the help of a potter from the Ottoman empire. The workshop produced a type of fritware, a combination of ground quartz, white clay and a glassy material called frit. This technique had been used in the Middle East since the 11th century and had been introduced into Turkey by Mehmad II in the 1470s. Only 57 pieces of ‘Medici porcelain’ are known to survive.
Buildings and Interiors
Casa de Pilatos, Seville, Spain
Spain is unusual among European countries because it included areas ruled by Muslim as well as Christian kings. Christian forces conquered Granada, the last Muslim kingdom, in 1492, but the impact of the Islamic heritage on Spanish architecture was a lasting one. In the ‘Casa de Pilatos’ (‘Pilate’s House’), the tile panels lining the courtyard walls are reminiscent of the earlier palaces of Islamic Spain, while the busts of Roman emperors set above them are inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture
Palacio del Infantado, Guadalajara, Spain
Sometimes it is difficult to define architectural features as eastern or western. The Palacio del Infantado was built for a Christian nobleman by a French-born architect. It has a lavishly ornamented entrance, with a decorative Spanish inscription above the door. This recalls the ornate, arched entrances to the Nasrid palaces of Islamic Spain, but in appearance the decorative arches are closer to Northern European models.
Church of São Francisco Évora, Portugal
Some Portuguese and Spanish buildings combine local and Middle Eastern architectural traditions. Horse-shoe arches around doorways and windows were common in the architecture of Spain before the Arab invasion in 711. They continued to be used in mosques and palaces. In the 16th century Portugal, when royal and noble patrons admired and adapted the Islamic architecture of southern Spain, the horse-shoe arch became a fashionable detail.