Persica Centropa

Even from the viewpoint of experts, Persian art may represent something of a mysterious, timeless and cross-cultural taste between east and west, encompassing modern-day Iran and West Central Asia, as well as parts of Anatolia and South Asia. For many people the question may require clarification, whether it would refer to Middle Eastern, Asian or Eurasian antiquities, or the national heritage of Iran from ancient times to the present.  Despite the lack of clarity surrounding this enquiry nowadays, it was during the first few decades of the twentieth century that Persian art was politically, economically and intellectually singled out across several cultural meeting points in Central Europe, interwoven with the crisis of visual expression and cultural identity in the region.

     Located at the crossroads of multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious civilisations, Central Europe encountered the material culture of the Persian world over the course of centuries through pastoral migrations and conquests, as well as through mercantile and diplomatic channels. Serving as items of gift exchange, booty and commodities, a variety of portable objects, ranging from carpets, textiles, metalwork, ceramics to illustrated manuscripts, acquired different functions and meanings along the way as they moved to Europe from West Asia via Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Balkans and their adjoining sea trade routes. Although the Habsburg empire never colonised the Persian world politically, the Persian cultural heritage, particularly that of medieval and early modern times, was by degrees visually and intellectually appropriated by cosmopolitan scholars and collectors, along with the thriving intellectual ambience that permeated pre-war Central Europe.

     Spanning from the declining years of the Habsburg empire to the emergence of new nation states within its former territories after 1918 and the devastation of World War II, this four-year project intends to offer a historiographical background of this enquiry by mapping out the network of collecting and interpreting Persian objects and images in the middle of the socio-political upheaval of a once-thriving cosmopolitan cultural region. It considers the trajectories of Persian artefacts, underscores the role of various agents, such as collectors, scholars and museum professionals, investigates the cultivation of aesthetic values concerning ‘Persian art’ and reappraises the Central European contribution to the making of world art history.

     Taken together, this project makes innovative contributions to provide new insighted into cultural artefacts of what can be found at anyone’s home, so as to enhance the knowledge on consumer cultures not only in modern-day Austria but also more widely Central Europe some 100 years ago.

     Hosted by the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Vienna, this project has been endorsed by Dr. Ebba Koch and Dr. Markus Ritter at the Department of Art History, University of Vienna.