Stevenson Stewart: Rules of Engagement: Art, Commerce and Diplomacy in Golden-Age Antwerp


My proposed dissertation, Rules of Engagement: Art, Commerce and Diplomacy in Golden-Age Antwerp, explores a paradox of the early modern world: the ‘mobile’ city. It studies the movements that transformed Antwerp into the capital of European commerce in the sixteenth century: as imports, exports, and foreign merchants passed through Antwerp, the composition of the city changed daily. Presenting conceptual portraits of Antwerp’s three most important trading partners: Portuguese spice traders, South Germans financiers, and English mercers, my dissertation situates the city’s urban geography within global commercial and diplomatic circuitry and considers the intellectual and visual cultures that animated these networks. Following Michael Baxandall’s study of the interpenetration of mercantile and artistic culture as well as his period-specific approach to material connoisseurship, I study how artistic patronage satisfied the social and political needs of merchant communities. Considered as an early history of globalization, this dissertation seeks to improve our understanding of the role that artworks performed in early modern economic and cultural exchanges, and how the cosmopolitan adaptability of Antwerp artisans enhanced their international marketability.

Each chapter interprets specific spatial constructs that underlay merchants’ engagement with artworks. The dissertation’s introduction, “From Pathways to Networks,” studies two important exports of the city of Antwerp: maps and playing cards. The premise of this chapter is that maps and playing cards correspond to different visual cultures and forms of sociability within Antwerp’s foreign colonies. The first main chapter, ‘Movable Walls’, considers the patronage of the Gresham family, who served as agents for English royalty from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, and also acquired tapestries for English aristocracy. The chapter evaluates how the physical properties of tapestries heightened the kinetic sensation of movement through space, and how the Gresham family’s extensive experience in the wool trade informed their aesthetic judgments. Because the Greshams were also key figures in the transfer of financial and architectural knowledge from Antwerp to London, this chapter explores the interrelationship of textile connoisseurship and spatial and mathematical knowledge. Chapter two, ‘Orbs,’ presents an analysis of Portuguese collecting practices, focusing on the diplomat-merchant Damião de Góis and his circle of acquaintances. Two types of export-oriented, serial-produced artworks from Antwerp are read in light of Portuguese imperial ventures: the Antwerp Mannerist paintings of the Adoration of the Magi, which were shipped in great numbers to Lisbon (the center), and the diminutive statuettes of the Christ Child as Salvator Mundi, which were sometimes used by Portuguese explorers as diplomatic gifts in the Orient (the periphery). Considered as thematically linked genres, these objects rationalize pre-colonial global geography through the lens of a Christ-centered imperial ideology and gift exchange. Chapter three, ‘Portals’, studies a series of Joachim Patinir’s ‘world’ landscapes collected by the German merchant Lucas Rem as well as an alterpiece he commissioned from Quentin Metsys. Rem’s interest in Patinir’s landscapes is situated within the context of the German bullion trade with Antwerp and the emergence of mining landscapes genres in Germany. Also considered will be how Rem’s experiences as a pilgrim enhanced his interests in these paintings. Finally, through analysis of tapestries, paintings, and prints as dividers, extenders, and charters of spatial awareness, my conclusion “Fortuna’s emissaries” asks how the various media and genres discussed register the different intellectual cultures and aesthetic values of these merchants.


Prof. Dr. Iris Lauterbach

Projektmitarbeiter ZI