Just around the corner from Rome’s Pantheon, on the Via di Sant’Ignazio, is the famed Biblioteca Casanatense. Among its precious books and manuscripts is an album of 76 striking watercolours made in Goa around 1540, the work of an anonymous Indian painter for an unknown Portuguese patron.
The Codex, or Códice Casanatense, contains illustrations of daily scenes, professions and religious ceremonies, as well as illustrations of the peoples of what is now known as the Maritime Silk Road, from East Africa to China. Painter & Patron, by Peter Gordon and Juan José Morales, is the first English-language book dedicated to this remarkable and unique document.
Among other revelatory discoveries, Painter & Patron demonstrates that the illustrator drew upon paintings from his own traditions as well as early European prints—in particular Balthasar Sprenger’s Die Merfart, one of the most famous travel books of the time, whence he adapted compositions. Most surprisingly of all, some pictures in the Codex served as direct inspiration for Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s celebrated Itinerario, the influential book which would open the Indian Ocean to European imagination.
Hidden in the Codex are hints to a personal story: a marriage between a former Portuguese soldier and a local woman, a man who rose to prominence with connections across the ethnic divide. In this story, and in the illustrations, we can see the inspiring effort of one people endeavoring to learn about and understand another.
Lively and evocative, the Códice Casanatense is a unique historical record that provides a human window into an Asia that Europeans were only just entering and a first testimony of an encounter that would transform the world.
Painter and Patron: The Maritime Silk Road in the Códice Casanatense
by Peter Gordon and Juan José Morales
Abbreviated Press, August 2020 (ISBN 9789887458609)