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Translating the Relics of Byzantium. Imagery Transfer and the Politics of Translation. From Greek East to Latin West, 1453-1535 (2021-)

Michail Leivadiotis, Research Area 1: "Competing Communities"
Postdoctoral Research Project

After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the encounter between the Greek East and Latin West intensified cultural exchange, connectivity, comparison and the emergence of new forms of commonalities and communities. A significant number of Byzantine scholars sought refuge in Italian and other European cities, bringing with them the relics of the Empire: icons, heirlooms, reliquaries and especially manuscripts. Their cause for a crusade against the Ottoman threat was interlaced with their struggle for the formation of a wider, inclusive, transnational community of "literati".

Byzantine cultural agency in the West gradually stimulated the formation of a shared understanding through the emergence of a cultural space at the contact zones between Greek East and Latin West, as well as between "Middle Ages" and "Early Modernity". The intellectual and cultural commitment of Byzantine émigrés stimulated philosophical debates about belonging and identity, which involved phenomena of mobility, migration, displacement and intermediality. Additionally, the friction between byzantine transfer strategies and western cultural policies fostered, in the 15th century, the forging of a meaningful movement towards a commonality of rules, ideas and vision.

This project offers an interdisciplinary approach in order to analyse the dynamics of cultural transfer in the formation process of transcultural and transtemporal communities and aims to investigate the ways in which medial translation serves such purpose. By examining political usage, ritualisation and re-signification of cultural goods, it attempts to understand how the transfer of textual and visual imagery facilitated the formation of a new common narrative about tradition and future. The main objective of the project is to understand how powers of cultural hegemony and social hierarchy in an emigration context shaped the instrumentalisation of transfer by the Byzantine exiles and the exploitation of its result by the western humanists and Renaissance artists.

To this purpose, the project scrutinises the dynamics of cultural translation and the adaptation of eastern imagery to dominant local western narratives. The project examines how different geographical areas, cultural spaces and political formations in various European realities respond to the textual and visual rhetorics about the re-appropriation of the Greek tradition and salvation of the Byzantine heritage. Thus, juxtaposition of divergent agencies, like those of Bessarion and Anna Notaras, of the brothers Constantine and Janus Lascaris or of Demetrius Ducas in Venice and in Spain, evinces disparate conceptualisations of political and cultural universalism. Additionally, the project attempts to understand cultural heritage management programmes by tracing divergent responses of western art (Pisanello, Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Pinturicchio, Paolo Romano) to the call for the formation of an aesthetic frame for the re-appropriation of the classical world in literary, material and territorial means.