Roma, Vienna e l’Oriente : Le lettere di Sebastian Tengnagel e Pietro Della Valle
They never met. But the ‚friendship by correspondence‘ (1628–1634) between the traveller Pietro Della Valle and the desk-bound librarian of the imperial library in Vienna, Sebastian Tengnagel, was built on a solid foundation: their shared passion for the Christian and Muslim East, its languages and its books was an „iron bond“ that gave rise to a close and immediate understanding between two men, despite their huge differences of temperament and experience. However, these letters (kept at the Vatican Archives and the Austrian National Library) do not just bear witness to the growing knowledge of the East in the first half of the 17th century. They also show that early Catholic Orientalism had its roots in a highly stratified terrain, in which military conflict, irenic tensions, missionary propaganda, philological investigation, religious disputes, a rejection of book censorship, and theories on sovereignty were layered and interwoven. But how, and why, would anyone choose to become an orientalist, and what did it entail? Rome and Vienna, the cities from which the letters were written, were both normative centres with universalist ambitions; both were engaged in a profound rethinking and redefinition of secular and religious power. The pages written by Tengnagel and Della Valle reflect the writers’ love of and interest in books. But reading carefully between the lines you can also hear the ‚noises off‘ of the cities in which they were penned.
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