Imagine Me and You: Dutch and Flemish Encounters with the Islamic World, 1450–1750

, University Study Gallery, University Research Gallery, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
This detail from a print shows a crowded procession of men walking and on horseback.

Pieter Coecke van Aelst, “Customs and Fashions of the Turks” (detail), 1553. Woodcut printed from 10 blocks on joined sheets of antique laid paper. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Acquisition Fund for Prints, 2011.11.

University Study Gallery, University Research Gallery, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

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Discover a story of cross-cultural artistic connection over 300 years between the Dutch, the Flemish, and the Islamic world.

Imagine Me and You unveils the vibrancy of multicultural exchange between the Low Countries (roughly modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands), then part of the Habsburg empire, and the Islamic world, in particular the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires that concurrently controlled much of Central and Southeast Europe, North Africa, and South, West and Central Asia. Prompted by the rich diversity of these empires, the exhibition explores a wide range of artistic, cultural, diplomatic, and mercantile interactions that took place either in person or through the peaceful exchange of objects, art, and ideas over the course of three centuries. This exhibition disrupts the persistent notion that war—in particular, religious strife between Christians and Muslims—dominated interactions between the Low Countries and the Islamic world.

Imagine Me and You traces these multiple encounters through the world of Netherlandish artworks and their varied representations of the Islamic realm. Looking also at the ways in which contemporary Ottoman fashion played a role in biblical and historical scenes by Netherlandish artists, the exhibition invites viewers to reflect on the profound impact these interactions have had on crafting our shared history. This dynamic interplay between cultures unearths revelations about individual heritage and the broader global community. While acknowledging the complexity of establishing the origin of certain hybrid objects, the exhibition ultimately suggests that it is more important to amplify and celebrate these objects’ multicultural and multifaceted characteristics.

The approximately 120 objects in the exhibition include drawings, prints, paintings, textiles, and more; the works come from the collections of the Harvard Art Museums as well as from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, The Tobey Collection, other Harvard institutions, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In addition to sumptuous textiles and striking wool carpets from Türkiye (Turkey) and intricate album paintings from the Ottoman and Mughal periods, there is a range of drawings and prints from Dutch, Netherlandish, and other artists, including Margaretha Adriaensdr. de Heer, Haydar Reis, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Melchior Lorck, Nicolas de Nicolay, Lucas van Leyden, Jacob Marrel, Rembrandt, and many more. A display of historical pigment samples sheds light on some of the materials these artists used.

Curated by Talitha Maria G. Schepers, 2022–24 Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Curatorial Fellow, Division of European and American Art, Harvard Art Museums.

Support for Imagine Me and You is provided by the Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Support Fund and the Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions. Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund.

Online Resources

An accompanying digital resource dives deeper into the exhibition’s core themes of encounter and imagination. A variety of contributions, ranging from short texts focused on a single object to longer technical studies, reflects a multitude of voices from across the Harvard Art Museums and Harvard University.

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