Yesterday I gave a speech in Rome at the Annual Scholar’s Conference organized by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. The Conference this year was dedicated to discussions, workshops and lectures presenting ‘Perspectives of the Mediterranean’. Over 100 participants engaged in a great learning experience thanks to the excellent organization, including high profile keynote speakers and highly skilled scholars; and I had the chance to lecture on two alternative development pathways for the Euro-Mediterranean region, namely a regional creative economy and a mapping of regional ecosystems in terms of economic and social opportunity costs.
These two pathways tackle two key issues for our Mediterranean future: one is cultural diversity; the other, biodiversity.
I would like to share a short story that I used as an intro to set the scene for my lecture; a story about a man called Filippo Lippi:
“Filippo was a Renaissance painter of the Quattrocento (the 15th century in Italy). His name might not ring a bell to many outside Italy; after all he is not Giotto, Raphael or Botticelli.
When he was a young man, Filippo was kidnapped by Barbary pirates and taken to the Maghreb, before he was finally set free. This experience marked him, and it shows in some of his artworks, like the Barbadori Altarpiece in which, if we zoom in, we would see pseudo-kufic writing on the mantle of the Virgin. It is a decorative motif that is meant to imitate the Kufic script used sometimes in writing Arabic, but it is not Arabic, and it is most definitely not writing at all to start with.
Filippo Lippi had captured only the aesthetic quality of the Arabic writing, rather than its cultural essence. In addition to paintings, Pseudo-Kufic motifs were also used in the decoration of several Mudejar palaces in Spain and Norman palaces in Sicily, among other places. The story about Filippo Lippi was related to us by Vasari, a famous artist and art historian, and I use it as a metaphor on what both shores of the Mediterranean have been doing repeatedly: approaching the Mediterranean question in a way that emphasizes the style rather than the substance.”
Finally, my sincere thanks to Dr. Frank Habermann and Patrizia Ianiro from the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes for the great effort and dedication. Congratulations for an excellent Conference.