The Emperor, the Saint and the Sultan’s Cockatoo


History Seminar Series

Start Date

11th May 2017 4:00pm

End Date

11th May 2017 5:30pm


Room 477A Humanities Building, Sandy Bay campus

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Presented by

Dr. Heather Dalton, University of Melbourne

The earliest European depiction of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is generally considered to be in a late fifteenth century altarpiece: Andrea Mantegna’s Madonna della Vittoria, completed in Mantua in 1496. However, sketches of this Australasian parrot made in Sicily around the mid thirteenth century have recently come to light.

In this paper Heather will put these sketches in their context and address what they mean, not only in terms of confirming the complexity and range of Medieval Southeast Asian trading networks, but in terms of the influences on, and of, what some have argued was the first Renaissance court - that of Frederick II.

This paper will follow the cockatoo, given to Frederick as a diplomatic gift during the Sixth Crusade, to sixteenth century Assisi and on to seventeenth century Goa where the bird encapsulates the ornithological focus of a Christian saint and the exoticism of a Muslim Sultan's court in a single image.

Heather Dalton is an ARC Early Career Research Fellow in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. The focus of her current project is transnational relationships and family ties in trading networks in the 15th and 16th century Atlantic. Heather is also interested in early contacts between Australasia and Europe. Her recent publications include: Merchants and Explorers: Roger Barlow, Sebastian Cabot and Networks of Atlantic Exchange, 1500 – 1560 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); and ‘Portraits, Pearls and Things “wch are very straunge to owres”: The lost collections of the Thorne/Withypoll Trading Syndicate, 1520–1550’ in Early Modern Merchants as Collectors, edited by Christina Anderson (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017).

Heather was recently awarded the ANZAMEMS' inaugural Philippa Maddern Early Career Researcher Publication Prize (2016) for her article ‘A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in fifteenth century Mantua: Rethinking symbols of sanctity and patterns of trade.’ Renaissance Studies 28/5 (2014): 676-694.