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Writing the Dead: Pietro Della Valle and the Tombs of Shirazi Poets

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This essay explores the impact of the Shirazi poets Saʿdi and Hafiz on the famous Baroque traveler, Pietro della Valle. Hitherto unexplained features of the magnificent funeral he designed for his Syrian Christian wife, Sitti Maʿani Gioerida, in Rome (1627) can be related to the poets’ tombs he had seen in Shiraz immediately following her untimely demise. In Safavid Iran, Della Valle was impressed by the production of commemorative poetry as well as by the virtuosic calligraphy that functioned as both word and image. He approved of the funerary complexes that created a community of poets both living and dead. The Roman funeral of 1627 not only displayed Della Valle’s literary erudition, it also emulated social, poetic, and artistic elements of the tomb shrines he had seen on his travels.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Art and Art History, Tufts University, Medford, Mass.

This project received support from the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University, and Tufts University. Thanks to Lamia Balafrej, Christopher Barbour, Patricia Blessing, Palmira Brummett, Christine Cavalier, Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, Eva Hoffman, Ann Rosalind Jones, Pamela Jones, Christina Maranci, Shane Minkin, Jennifer Montagu, Gülru Necipoğlu, and Jeffrey Ravel. Latin translations are by Amanda Jarvis. Translations from Italian are my own unless otherwise attributed. My title echoes Armando Petrucci, Writing the Dead: Death and Writing Strategies in the Western Tradition (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998). For an overview of the topic of death as studied in cultural history, see Shane Minkin, “History from Six-Feet Below: Death Studies and the Field of Modern Middle East History,” History Compass 11, no. 8 (2013): 632–46.

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