Representation and Reputation: Exchanging Experts and Artisans between the Spanish and Moroccan Courts in the 16th Century

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:30 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Claire Gilbert, Saint Louis University
Between 1593 and 1598, the Castilian court painter Blas de Prado was sent to Morocco at the request of its sultan, Aḥmad al-Manṣūr. Though fleeting references to this voyage date from seventeenth-century art histories, little is known about what Blas de Prado actually did while in Morocco. This presentation will present additional evidence about Blas de Prado’s stay in al-Manṣūr’s court and add to recent scholarship about this period in the painter’s life. Most significantly, however, I will argue that Prado’s journey to Morocco and his stay in the Sultan’s court should be considered as part of an intensifying Hispano-Moroccan diplomatic system which thrived on the personal exchange of letters, information, and objects. Blas de Prado’s activities in Morocco testify to the fact that Spain and Morocco not only exchanged diplomatic agents and luxury goods, but also artisans who could produce such goods. This exchange of experts adds a new dimension to our understanding of the dynamics of early modern Mediterranean diplomacy. Rather than an exchange of objects through fixed ceremonial procedures, the Spanish king’s “lending” of a court painter to the Moroccan sultan–during a moment of tension between the two powers–is a window into the activity and creativity of the individuals who knit together the diplomatic system through their work and their own mobility.
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