Elizabeth Rodini


Gentile Bellini,  Portrait of Sultan Mehmet II , 1480. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet II, 1480. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gentile Bellini’s Portrait of Mehmet II: Lives and Afterlives of an Iconic Painting

Sevgili Türk ziyaretçiler, lütfen bu anketi doldurmayı düşünün.Teşekkür ederim!                  

This book recounts the adventures of Gentile Bellini's portrait of Sultan Mehmet II, produced at the Ottoman court, Istanbul in 1480  and hanging today in London.  In the intervening years, the portrait got caught up in some key cultural moments: in the activities of the British archaeologist and Orientalist Austen Henry Layard (excavator of Nineveh in Iraq) who purchased the picture in 1865; in early attempts to define national patrimony in Italy; and in a legal debate over the definition of a "portrait" in England. It influenced the Ottoman search for reliable historical imagery in the sixteenth century, and returned triumphant to Istanbul in 1999 in a moment when Turkey was petitioning for membership in the European Union.  It is both a renowned picture and a reviled one, an iconic image that has also been marginalized for its poor condition and imperfect provenance.

As indicated in my subtitle, Lives and Afterlives, the book is an object biography, telling the story of Gentile Bellini’s painting while using it as a lens to explore an array of historical and art historical topics, including authenticity, verisimilitude, ownership, cross-cultural exchange, and political identity.  It explores global connections, past and present, through a single but endlessly fascinating portrait.

The book is forthcoming from I.B. Tauris/Bloomsbury.

I also explore Gentile’s stay at the Ottoman court and the varied understandings of naturalism in “The Sultan’s True Face?  Gentile Bellini, Mehmet II, and the Value of Verisimilitude” in The Turk and Islam in the Western Eye, 1453­–­1750: Visual Imagery before Orientalim, ed. James Harper, Ashgate, 2011. 

The  "Rubens Vase' , Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Creative Commons License

The "Rubens Vase', Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Creative Commons License

Mobile Things

I am interested in the mobility of objects and their shifting meanings as they circle the globe. What stories do they tell? How do their meanings and values change? And how can museums better communicate these layered histories?

My most recent work in this area was supported by the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, where I was a Visiting Fellow in the spring of 2018. There I investigated strategies for re-activating once peripatetic collection objects, attending to objects that spanned the Mediterranean, literally or conceptually, in the early modern period.

A related project, carried out in the collection of the Walters Art Museum through a 2009 course a Johns Hopkins University, resulted in an on-line tour of select Walters' objects, titled Art on the Move. I discuss this project in more detail in the Archive Journal; it has also been featured by the  Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities.

My recent article in Art History investigates historical attitudes toward mobility in the context of sixteenth-century Venice, with particular attention to objects imported from the eastern Mediterranean. 

The  Herring Run Archaeology Project  in Baltimore, led by Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer, 2016.

The Herring Run Archaeology Project in Baltimore, led by Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer, 2016.

Sustainable Heritage

The protection and preservation of cultural heritage is very much in the news, as we watch thousands of years of human history eroded and destroyed by acts of war and terrorism, by natural and human-caused environmental stress, and by the impact of globalization.

But "preservation" is complicated. Who decides what gets preserved and how? How should the benefits of modern life be balanced with the desire to preserve the past? What are the best ways to share the benefits that come from preservation and to distribute the costs and risks, or to balance local concerns with global ones?

As I begin a new professional adventure in Rome, I will be focusing on how this intricately layered city and the regions around it are addressing such questions, and how attitudes and approaches are or might be reshaped by immigration, gentrification, and the various pressures that face modern communities living on historically rich terrain.