Sinem A Casale


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Research interests

Sinem Casale specializes in Islamic art and architecture, with an emphasis on the history and visual culture of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. Centering on the relationship between art, diplomacy, religion, and trade in the early modern Muslim world, Casale's research explores issues that relate to exchange and encounters, materiality, gift-giving practices, courtly rituals, and theories of the image.


Casale's current book project, Gifts in Motion: Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Early Modern Islamic World, is the first systematic study to examine relations between the rival courts of the Ottomans and Safavids from the perspective of visual and material culture. It shows how exchanging gifts was the central method of diplomacy in the early modern Islamic world. Drawing on a wide range of sources in Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Italian, and taking a broad historical scope, this book examines the gifting of matchless works of art, such as the famous Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, together with well-known and unexplored courtly objects and other things. The tracking of gifts, and the ceremonial staging of their presentation and reception in this book offer a fresh perspective of Islamic cultural and diplomatic history and imperial self-fashioning against the backdrop of the Sunni-Shii rivalry, and against the background of expanding global trade networks. In addition, Casale is currently working on two other projects.


Expanding on a recent article, one of these focuses on the embassies exchanged between the Safavid court and numerous powers in Italy, including the papacy, Venice and Florence, at the turn of the seventeenth century. It asks questions about the role of objects and their mobility within tightly connected diplomatic and commercial contexts, at a time of vast political and economic transformation in a globally connected world. The second project considers the experiences of foreigners in early modern courts. It seeks to understand what function political rituals such as banquets served for the numerous parties involved at formal and highly ritualized encounters.


Prior to joining the Art History Department at the University of Minnesota, Casale was an Assistant Professor at McGill University's Institute of Islamic Studies. She was recently an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow, and a Max Weber Post Doctoral Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. Her research has also been supported by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the Social Science Research Council, American Research Institute in Turkey, and the Kress Foundation.


Selected Publications:

“Iconography of the Gift: Diplomacy and Imperial Self-Fashioning at the Ottoman Court,” The Art Bulletin (March 2018)


“A Peace for a Prince: The Reception of a Safavid Child Hostage at the Ottoman Court” Journal of Early Modern History 20 (2016)


“The Persian Madonna and Child: Commodified Gifts Between Diplomacy and Armed Struggle” Art History: The Journal of the Association of Art Historians (September 2015)


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


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