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The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon

The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon


Available as a fixed-page e-book through University of Chicago Press


Recently identified by the editors as the Rua Nova dos Mercadores, the principal commercial and financial street in Renaissance Lisbon, two sixteenth-century paintings, acquired by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1866, form the starting point for this portrait of a global city in the early modern period. Focusing on unpublished objects, and incorporating newly discovered documents and inventories that allow novel interpretations of the Rua Nova and the goods for sale on it, these essays offer a compelling and original study of a metropolis whose reach once spanned four continents.  


The Rua Nova views painted by an anonymous Flemish artist portray an everyday scene on a recognisable street, with a diverse global population. This thoroughfare was the meeting point of all kinds of people, from rich to poor, slave to knight, indigenous Portuguese to Jews and diasporic black Africans.


The volume highlights the unique status of Lisbon as an entrepôt for curiosities, luxury goods and wild animals. As the Portuguese trading empire of the fifteenth and sixteenth century expanded sea-routes and networks from West Africa to India and the Far East, non-European cargoes were brought back to Renaissance Lisbon. Many rarities were earmarked for the Portuguese court, but simultaneously exclusive items were readily available for sale on the Rua Nova, the Lisbon equivalent of Bond Street or Fifth Avenue. Specialized shops offered West African and Ceylonese ivories, raffia and Asian textiles, rock crystals, Ming porcelain, Chinese and Ryukyuan lacquerware, jewellery, precious stones, naturalia and exotic animal byproducts. Lisbon was also a hub of distribution for overseas goods to other courts and cities in Europe. The cross-cultural and artistic influences between Lisbon and Portuguese Africa and Asia at this date will be re-assessed. 


Lisbon was imagined as the head of empire or caput mundi, while the River Tagus became the aquatic gateway to a globally connected world. Lisbon evolved into a dynamic Atlantic port city, excelling in shipbuilding, cartography and the manufacture of naval instruments. The historian Damião de Góis bragged of the “Tagus reigning over the world”. Lisbon’s fame depended on its river, an aquatic avenue that competed with the Rua Nova, providing a means of interaction, trade and communication along Lisbon’s coastline. Even for the cosmopolitan Góis, who travelled extensively for the Portuguese crown, Lisbon’s chaotic docks were worth describing. Of all the European cities he experienced, only Lisbon and her rival Seville could be “rightfully called Ladies and Queens of the Sea”. Góis contended that they had opened up the early modern world through circumnavigation.  


Lisbon was destroyed in a devastating earthquake and tsunami in November 1755. These paintings are the only large-scale vistas of Rua Nova dos Mercadores to have survived, and together with the new objects and archival sources offer a fresh and original insight into Renaissance Lisbon and its material culture.

  • Edited by Annemarie Jordan Gschwend & K.J.P. Lowe

    November 2015

    Hardback, 280 x 245 mm

    296 pages, 250 colour illustrations
    ISBN: 978 1 907372 88 9

  • In the press

    "This is modern historical inquiry at its best: clear, precise, forthcoming about problems of evidence, and relentlessly focused on its central questions...[The Global City] restores Lisbon to its rightful place as one of the most important centres in the history of the modern world."  Times Literary Supplement 


    "This handsomely illustrated book offers a tantalising view of a vanished city that in its day, according to do Góis, 'reigned over the world.'" —Apollo 


    "Cultural history at its most original and sustaining." —Literary Review


    "In this wonderful book, Annemarie Jordan Gschwend and Kate Lowe have successfully brought back to life the disappeared world of the bustling Atlantic port-city that was Lisbon during the sixteenth century … a real tour de force." —The Court Historian 


    “Utterly arresting…beautifully presented…fascinating.” 
    Country Life 


    "A superbly produced and illustrated volume of essays." New York Review of Books


    "The Global City, far more than a catalogue of beautiful things, expertly explores the contradictions between power and accumulation, commerce and art, that complicated the imperial project." —World of Interiors 


    "A deeply important addition to its genre." —Arts of Asia


     "The Global City brings the forgotten importance and contribution of a great European city to fresh attention." —The Art Newspaper 


    "Very well produced … a firm step towards a new and integrated understanding of the role of trade in the early Portuguese empire, the development and the perception of its urban centres, and the social uses of foreign objects."  European History Quarterly 


    "Excellent and splendidly illustrated book … impressive … enjoyable as well as enlightening." —History: The Magazine of the Historical Association


    "Truly splendid … can scarcely be commended more highly." —Sixteenth Century Journal 


    "Elegantly written and copiously illustrated … a landmark in the historiography of Renaissance Lisbon." —Journal of Jesuit Studies 


    "Elegant, magnificently illustrated volume … a fascinating tour" —Renaissance Quarterly 


    "Magnificent and innovative work" —Librosdelacorte

  • Awards

    Awarded the 2016 "Admiral Teixeira da Mota" Prize from the Academia de Marinha, Lisbon. This annual award recognizes an outstanding publication in the area of Portuguese maritime history. 


    "Transformative scholarly contribution" —2016 Eleanor Tufts Award (Honorable Mention) This annual award recognizes an outstanding English-language publication in the area of Spanish or Portuguese art history. 

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