Talitha Schepers

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Thesis title: The Function of Artists and Artworks in Early Modern Diplomatic Encounters between the Habsburg Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire (1526-1574)

During the sixteenth century several Netherlandish artists accompanied Habsburg diplomatic missions to the Ottoman Empire. Although most academic studies acknowledge the journey of these artists, they are usually mentioned fleetingly as support to other arguments.

Thus, the aim of my PhD research is to examine the function of Netherlandish artists and art in diplomatic encounters between the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire (1526-1574). In order to do so, my research considers the four most significant Habsburg diplomatic missions to the Ottoman Empire which dealt with the contested Hungarian border zone between both empires and which were all lead by Netherlandish ambassadors: 1533 and 1534 Cornelis de Schepper, 1545-1547 Gerard Veltwijck, 1552-62 Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, and 1570-74 Karel Rym. On at least three of these missions, an artist accompanied the diplomatic entourage, namely Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1533), Melchior Lorck (1555-59) and Lambert de Vos (1570-74).  

The artists and visual material under consideration in my PhD project have never been studied in relation to these diplomatic missions. Furthermore, traditional scholarship has considered them predominantly in the context of the so-called “Image of the Turk”.

My research will reconsider these artworks as visual objects – visual reports so-to-speak – made by artists who were employed and travelled within a diplomatic context. I argue that the legitimacy of these visual objects as primary sources of Habsburg-Ottoman diplomatic encounters should be reconsidered. As such, my research seeks to give voice to these artists and approach their visual artworks as agents of diplomacy. 

Supervised by Professor Joanna Woodall and Dr Jan Loop (University of Kent)

About me

I obtained my Bachelor of Arts (2005-2008) and Master of Arts (2008-2009) degrees from the KU Leuven University, Belgium, and, as an Erasmus exchange student, I studied my third BA year at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain (2007-2008). After working for several years as a freelance museum tour guide in Belgium and as a certified CELTA English Language teacher in the South of Turkey, I resumed my academic studies with an additional MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture at the Warburg Institute, jointly offered by the National Gallery London, UK (2013-2014). Subsequently, I was awarded a Robert Owen Bishop Research Scholarship in History at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge (2014-2015), followed by a second pre-doctoral fellowship at a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne in Germany, where I developed my current PhD project. Currently, I am a PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, where I also occasionally provide lunchtime talks as a student ambassador at the Courtauld Gallery of Art. 

Research interests

My main research interests include sixteenth-century cross-cultural encounters, Northern Renaissance (specifically Early Netherlandish art), Islamic Art, textile studies, print and drawings. 

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