Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile
The Virgin, Christ, Devotions, and Images in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile
The Virgin, Christ, Devotions, and Images in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
“This is an impressive book that will profoundly alter our understanding of late medieval culture and late medieval Iberia, charting the directions for future research in a range of areas. It is a groundbreaking work—or, more accurately, a frame-breaking work—for medievalists, Hispanists, art historians, students of religious devotion and mysticism, and, most generally, scholars interested in the complex mechanisms of cultural exchange.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile is a finalist for the 2014 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, honoring an especially distinguished book in the history of art.
In Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile, Cynthia Robinson argues that it is necessary to reorient discussions of late medieval religious art produced and used in Castile, placing Iberian devotional art in the context of Iberian devotional practice. Instead of focusing on the segregation of the religious lives of members of late medieval Iberia’s much-discussed “Three Confessions” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), Robinson offers concrete evidence of the profound impact of each sect on the other two.
Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile ranges across traditional disciplinary and cultural divides. Robinson considers altarpieces that differ radically from their European contemporaries; architectural ornament; a rare series of narratives of Christ’s life; indulgenced prayers; Muslim and Jewish mystical texts; lives, hours, devotions, and Psalters of and to the Virgin which appear to be uniquely Iberian and find resonances in both Hebrew and Arabic mystical literature; sacred gardens and trees in both textual and visual culture from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish contexts; and preaching manuals written by converted Jews. Together, these texts and images offer striking evidence of the plurality of late medieval Iberian religious life, both within the supposed boundaries of a specific religion and in terms of each culture’s relationship with the other.
“This is an impressive book that will profoundly alter our understanding of late medieval culture and late medieval Iberia, charting the directions for future research in a range of areas. It is a groundbreaking work—or, more accurately, a frame-breaking work—for medievalists, Hispanists, art historians, students of religious devotion and mysticism, and, most generally, scholars interested in the complex mechanisms of cultural exchange.”
“Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile is no doubt one of the most relevant contributions of the past two decades in the field of medieval Iberian art history. Building on an impressive number of unpublished primary sources and careful analysis of crucial examples where art was produced in a context of interreligious dialogue and/or confrontation, Cynthia Robinson argues for a new understanding of the specificity of late medieval Castilian visual culture in a European context. Highly interdisciplinary and refreshing, Imagining the Passion revisits old ideas of influence and artistic exchange with a new and provocative agenda. This book will be a must-read for anyone interested in the history of medieval and early modern Iberia.”
“Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile contains a wealth of information, detail, and insight, as well as abundant and beautiful illustrations. Robinson brings to light countless unpublished and unknown texts and images and elucidates many understudied works. This volume not only alters our understanding of medieval Castilian devotional practices but also helps to bridge the gap between the Spanish Middle Ages and sixteenth-century mysticism, especially that of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Luis de Leon. The way we look at early Spanish depictions of the Passion has undoubtedly changed forever.”
“The lack of documentation and often partial preservation of painted and sculpted religious works in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Kingdom of Castile has, in the past, limited most art historical treatment of this material to discussions of stylistic developments. Cynthia Robinson has approached the material in a new, interdisciplinary fashion. Her meticulously researched and densely written volume sheds new light on the iconographical emphases of the uniquely Castilian focus on the Virgin Mary with respect to Christ’s Passion at this period.”
“Imagining the Passion is a remarkable book not just for the encyclopedic collection of primary sources with which Robinson deals, or for the exhaustive and insightful analyses within it, but also for her candor in writing an ambitious and ultimately important study that rests comfortably on speculation, circumstantial evidence, and the occasional leap of faith.”
“The achievement of Robinson’s book is that it raises [complex interdisciplinary questions] with resolute conviction, throwing down the gauntlet to Hispanists working in a range of disciplines.”
“A reminder to many of us who work on aspects of the devotional cultures of medieval Europe that we should never leave home without our magnifying glass lest we miss the tiles for the mosaic.”
Cynthia Robinson is Professor of History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University, where she also serves as Chair of Undergraduate Studies in the History of Art.
Finalist, 2014 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, honoring an especially distinguished book in the history of art.
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1 The Life of Christ from Polemic to Devotion: Texts and Images
2 Christ Crucified: A Poetics of Transformation
3 Virgo Triumphans
4 Virgo Patiens
5 Images and Devotions: Devotional Images?
When Christians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries experienced “devotion,” what did they feel? How were these feelings created and through what senses—sight? hearing? smell?—were they channeled? How were their imaginations engaged? What role did Christ’s humanity play in this process? How did they conceive of and approach the Virgin? Did they engage images of these holy figures, and if so, how? and why did they choose the ones they did, and why did they reject others? These are questions that have been posed—and answered in a wealth of detail—for late medieval contexts throughout most of Europe.
They have yet, however, to be entertained for a Castilian context. This study poses most of them, and offers answers—albeit partial ones—to some. More important, though, it opens avenues for further dialogue and research, so that the crucial and fascinating material examined in the chapters that follow might begin to participate in the larger discourses currently taking place among a number of academic disciplines concerned with the devotional lives of late medieval Christians and with the material and textual culture in which these lives manifested themselves. Perhaps, though, it is best to begin with some specifics.
The museum of the Cathedral of Valladolid houses a small statue—about twelve inches tall—that clearly configures the outstretched arms and joined legs of Christ Crucified; it also shows traces of the roots and vines from which it, as legend has it, was generated (fig. 1). The Cristo de la Cepa, or the Christ of the Vine, was “found” sometime during the first years of the fifteenth century by a wealthy Toledan Jew as he worked in his vineyard. Just as he prepared to sink his hoe into a particularly recalcitrant clump of weeds, he looked down and saw the Cristo. Instantly recognizing the Crucified Christ and falling to his knees, the Jew began to sob uncontrollably; he was converted to Christianity on the spot under the ministrations of Don Sancho de Rojas, archbishop of Toledo, who was conveniently nearby. Soon after its appearance, the Cristo was donated to the reformed Benedictine monastery of San Benito in the Castilian city of Valladolid. According to the Libro de los bienhechores de San Benito de Valladolid, in which the convent’s benefactors throughout the first three centuries of its existence are recorded, the donor was the archbishop himself, who had received the Cristo from the newly converted Jew. These events, as well as the miracle-working properties of the image, are related in a newspaper clipping from 1879, placed next to the object’s display case in the museum.
On the one hand, the Cristo conforms to some of the most basic characteristics of the devotional image as it is understood in current art-historical discourse: as a representation of the Crucified Christ, it is concerned with the Passion, and its size could be interpreted as lending itself to the construction of an intimate, individual relationship between viewer and object. On the other, its status as a cult image would suggest that viewers’ interactions with the Cristo were more often collective than individual. Its appearance, moreover, sharply distinguishes it from most European devotional images, whose impact on viewers is almost always one of striking—and, at least during the earliest years of the phenomenon, even disturbing —verisimilitude. No claim would ever be made that the Cristo is realistic in the conventional sense of this term. Its body is never quite severed from its rootness or vineness, and the cross appears to grow out of, or into, the body in an organic way that makes it difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends; indeed, in many ways, the Cristo seems to represent the very process of transformation. The image, in other words, resists categorization according to the familiar divisions of the art-historical canon.
The Cristo was, nonetheless, powerful: the mere sight of it reduced its Jewish discoverer to tears, resulting—as the story goes—in his conversion to Christianity. Even more than the physical differences, which are certainly striking, it is this conversionary power that most distinguishes the Cristo from its European counterparts: many European images have been associated with the miraculous, but these miraculous qualities are not generally limited to or focused on an ability to induce viewers to convert from one religion to another. For a Castilian audience, however, it is this ability to convert—or to induce its viewers to change, as the statue itself appears to do—that makes the Cristo an object of veneration. It is the memory of its Jewish discoverer’s miraculous conversion, moreover, that assures the Cristo’s continued veneration into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Libro de los bienhechores from San Benito contains documents detailing the translatio, in 1608 (a historical moment that also witnessed—certainly not entirely coincidentally—the expulsion of the Moriscos from the Iberian Peninsula), of the miraculous image from a reliquary to the center of a new altarpiece that had been created specifically in order to display it. The festivities were attended by all the confraternities of Valladolid, and included a richly dressed image of the Virgin, as well as dancing, singing, and feasting.
Indeed, according to the anonymous compilers of the Libro (fols. 48r–50r), it is on the basis of this conversionary potency, rather than any mimetic qualities as these are traditionally understood, that the Cristo was able to “awaken [its viewers] to devotion” (despertarles a devoçion). The authors go on to explain the Hebrew word for “cross” (a derivative of the root ts-l-b) and its Old Testament precedents, before directly addressing the reader in order to affirm: if a “normal” crucifix “awakens you to devotion,” how much more potent must be the devotion awakened in you by the Cristo, which has cured the blindness of a Jew! On numerous occasions throughout this study, I return to the particular relationship between devotion and belief that characterized Castilian Christianity during the late medieval period.
In addition to the Cristo, Don Sancho de Rojas made other donations to the convent of San Benito during the first two decades of the fifteenth century. These included a large retablo, or altarpiece, dedicated to the Life of Christ and destined for the church’s principal altar, as well as a small granite sculpture of the Pietà to which he professed particular devotion; it is believed that he intended the chapel in which this Virgin was to be placed for his own burial (fig. 42). Together, these images encapsulate many of the questions and problems that have shaped this study: in the Cristo’s overt relationships to confessional strife and conversion, some of the most pressing issues facing members of the convent (and, indeed, of Castilian society) at the moment of its donation to the convent, the root image is echoed, albeit in less strident tones, by the other two. Archbishop Don Sancho’s large retablo dedicated to the Life of Christ, though clearly reflective of an appreciation of Italian formal and stylistic elements, is just as clearly a uniquely Castilian object; large altarpieces dedicated to the representation of the Life of Christ are uncommon, if not absent altogether, in an Italian context, just as they are in a Netherlandish one. Don Sancho’s retablo was indeed something of a novelty when it was first placed on the high altar at San Benito, but the Life of Christ altarpiece would come, during the final decades of the fifteenth century, to constitute a critical part of the visual panorama of Castilian Christianity, though its panels would by then evidence a Northern or Hispano-Flemish, rather than an Italian, aesthetic. The reading of such pieces, moreover, both in early manifestations and later ones, is best undertaken, not through the lens of private devotions and personal piety, but rather through that of the most acerbic confessional polemics.
The Pietà is the only image of the three that may truly be characterized as a devotional image; it would thus appear to be particularly closely related to European prototypes. Nevertheless, while it is demonstrably linked in style and iconography to a group of objects produced in the Rhineland during the decades immediately preceding its appearance in Castile (indeed, it is possible that it is an importation), Don Sancho’s Pietà would have been approached by Castilian devotees with expectations subtly different from those that governed interactions with similar images elsewhere in Europe. Like that of the Cristo and the altarpiece, the Pietà’s reception was irrevocably altered and shaped by a unique textual panorama, as well as by a context in which members of all three of medieval Iberia’s much-touted “Three Religions” were very much present in almost all imaginable activities of daily life, and conversion from one religion to another was not only something to be either feared or ardently desired but a very real possibility. These and other images, together with the texts alongside which they are here analyzed, many of which are unpublished and unstudied, demonstrate that the late medieval Castilian devotional landscape, though related in many ways to that which characterized other areas of European Christendom, was different.
These differences are sometimes stark and sometimes subtle, but they are all significant, and they form the focus of the five chapters that follow. Before outlining each chapter, however, I should introduce several fundamental issues concerning religious images, the Passion, the specific roles of Christ and the Virgin in it, and the peculiarities of devotions in multiconfessional Castile.
Religious Images in Late Medieval Castile
For most of Christian Europe it would be fair to assume that, by the end of the thirteenth century, meditations—and particularly meditations on Christ Crucified—were intended to be practiced in conjunction with vivid images, whether actual or imagined. Rachel Fulton accepts, at least implicitly, the notion that the miracles of sensum, or sense, that she analyzes would have been provoked by the presence of and visual contact with images. Likewise, Sarah Lipton has recently returned to Rupert of Deutz’s amorous visions, which, as stated by the author himself, were inspired by repeated and prolonged contemplation of a sculpted image of the suffering Christ placed atop an altar. Though Rupert initially appears to have found this image disturbing, he, in the end, “edits” its ugliness through his contemplations and achieves an ecstatic state of union, which his vision seals with a deep kiss. Somewhat later, Saint Bonaventure, in the De perfectione vitae ad sorores, instructs his readers (initially conceived as female religious, though this readership soon came to include members of the laity as well) to closely examine Christ’s tortured body, and it seems likely that he does so with the knowledge that most would have had access to images that might assist them in this process. Similarly, Jill Bennett has reconstructed a mnemonics of the sacred topography of Christ’s tortured body that would have served devotees in constructing individual Passion meditations; these visions, moreover, are initiated or provoked by repeated and prolonged visual contact with an image that now contains visual cues that ensure the use of proper tactics. Indeed, by the fifteenth century, many images had been specifically individualized and personalized in order to foster and shape such encounters. Michael Camille, for instance, in his analysis of a Passion portrait by the German Dominican painter Meister Francke, signals that, for contemplatives in early-fifteenth-century Germany, “the pre-eminent sense . . . was sight. When St Bonaventure quotes Hugh of St Victor to the effect that ‘the power of love transforms the lover into an image of the beloved’ he was constructing a dynamic based upon the erotics of vision.”
Scholarship on late medieval religious imagery forms part of a much larger dialogue concerned with late medieval European devotional culture and life that has been extremely lively over the past several decades, with productive discussions taking place across what have traditionally been perceived as disciplinary boundaries. The field has been significantly defined by the rich body of work produced by Caroline W. Bynum, with fruitful art-historical applications of both her approaches and the questions suggested by her work being carried out on English, Italian, and Northern European visual material (e.g., by Bennett, Camille, Jeffrey Hamburger, and Bernard Ridderboss, to name but a few). It is revealing that at present few, if any, of these discussions—whether concerned with texts, devotional practices, or images—include material from an Iberian context. The reasons for this exclusion are both numerous and complex, and they have a long history that is often intertwined with the “origins” myths of what scholarship has traditionally understood as “medieval” and “Renaissance” art, historiographical issues that are far beyond the scope of this study.
For their part, scholars concerned with late medieval imagery in Iberia have been slow to embrace the multidisciplinary approaches evinced by the best recent scholarship on related topics in other European contexts. In almost all cases, images are approached from a formalistic standpoint that fails to consider them sufficiently as religious objects. When religious questions are considered, moreover, this is usually in an attempt to bring the Iberian examples into line with the interpretation of imagery elsewhere in Europe. Excellent exceptions to this rule do exist; among these, of greatest importance to the present study have been publications by Felipe Pereda, particularly Las imágenes de la discordia: Política y poética de la imagen sagrada en la España del cuatrocientos.
Nevertheless, both the timeline and the quantity of religious imagery in late medieval Castile are atypical when compared to those of other European contexts. The small, personalized, or individual devotional image, for example, seems to have been almost entirely absent until the final years of the fifteenth century. Pereda notes comments by the mid-fourteenth-century cleric Martín Pérez that would appear to indicate substantial resistance to the phenomenon on the part of Castilian Christians, and this is reflective of my own findings, particularly as regards images of the Passion. Indeed, in striking contrast to the rest of Europe, individual, somatic, or intimate relationships to Christ established through the use of “personalized” Passion imagery, whether actual or imagined, simply do not appear to have formed part of medieval Castilian devotional culture before the final decade of the fifteenth century.
Cult images, on the other hand, are much more plentiful. Most numerous among these are the seemingly ubiquitous “Romanesque”-style statues of the seated Virgin with the Christ child on her lap; conversion legends are attached to many of these images. The conversionary power attributed by Castilian Christians to the Cristo de la Cepa appears to have been shared with some sculpted crucifixes of a much more ordinary (read: European) appearance. Though considerably fewer of these images have been preserved, life-sized sculptures of Christ Crucified were also important as cult objects.
Studies of the cult image in a Castilian context have traditionally been scarce, but Pereda’s Imágenes de la discordia goes a long way toward filling that gap, demonstrating that both the potency and the appearance of Castile’s cult images were bitterly contested at the highest levels of ecclesiastical power. While the “rest of Europe” also experienced moments of greater or lesser openness to the use, importance, and interpretation of images in the contexts of both liturgical and extraliturgical devotion, these questions were a great deal more vexed among members of the upper echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in late medieval Castile than they were elsewhere, and this because—certainly a surprise to no one—of the multiconfessional, conflicted, and quite often combative context in which they were debated. Until the middle of the fifteenth century, Castilian ecclesiastics exhibited a widespread tendency to minimize the importance of images in these contexts while, at the same time, emphasizing their pedagogical potential. This tendency, however, as Pereda has demonstrated, began to reverse itself at the end of the fourteenth century.
Though the crucifixes referenced above do eventually lead, as Susan Verdi Webster argues, to the startling seventeenth-century realism of Gregorio Fernández and Juan de Juní, interaction with such images was almost always mediated by community and ritual, a far cry from the intimate raptures before a sculpture of the Crucified Christ recounted by Rupert of Deutz. Indeed, at issue for many Castilian viewers appears to have been an aversion to the visual evocation of Christ’s humanity and suffering. Though works evidencing the new realism imported from the North were actively sought and commissioned by Castilian patrons beginning in the middle decades of the fifteenth century, this new style was almost never used to evoke the more disturbing somatic details of the Passion. With certain notable exceptions and in stark contrast to the practice in nearby Cataluña, even larger altarpieces were not produced in significant numbers in Castile until after the middle decades of the fifteenth century, when the shadowy and almost certainly foreign figures of Nicolás Francés and Jorge Inglés, together with Rogier van der Weyden and a handful of significant royal and noble patrons, paved the way—as the process is most often portrayed in the scholarly literature—for the introduction of the Flemish style into Castile. Even then, however, Christ’s humanity and death seemed to be subjects a Castilian audience preferred to avoid. Among extant images and those for which documentation survives, saints are plentiful; the Virgin and her life are popular themes, as are Christ and his, but graphic representation of the Passion is studiously avoided. Preferences are unmistakably for moments in which either Christ or the Virgin demonstrates divine or quasi-divine powers. In addition to the Infancy, the Transfiguration is frequent, as is the Resurrection and the Ascension; divine or transcendent qualities are expressed through iconography, through the lavish use of gold leaf, and—as Pereda argues—through heavy formal borrowings from the realm of the cult image. Castilian religious imagery during the late medieval period, then, is both like and unlike its European counterparts.
Pereda situates the Castilian phenomenon against the backdrop of late medieval Europe, which experienced, in his words, “una verdadera ‘explosión iconográfica,’” along with an “inflación de lo sacro.” He argues that the year 1480—when Hieronymite Fray Hernando de Talavera, who would later be suspected of converso ties (or even blood), had not yet fallen out of Queen Isabel’s good graces—represents a sort of watershed year during which, at least as far as the majority of the Castilian ecclesiastical hierarchy was concerned, the scales tilted definitively in favor of a central place for images in Christian devotional and cultic practice.
Indeed, as Pereda demonstrates, some twenty years later, the image would play a key role in what was to become an aggressive policy of conversion, implemented by Talavera himself, in the context of a recently conquered Granada, replete with Muslims whom the church hoped to seduce toward Christianity. But, as the present study argues, even the “watershed” moment of 1480 is not unambiguous. Pereda implicitly assumes that ecclesiastical validation of religious imagery paved the way for Castilians’ wholesale adoption—and for the consequent proliferation—of the category of images that would be understood by most scholars as “devotional.” It is important to emphasize, however, that with very few exceptions the images examined by Pereda were (and continue to be) cult images, as opposed to devotional ones. In Castile, it is only during the very final years of the fifteenth century that significant (though still relatively small when compared to other European contexts) numbers of images that in any way respond to the wider European definition of the devotional image begin to be produced. As noted above, for most of the fifteenth century—at a moment when devotions to the humiliations, torments, and death of the Son of God had reached mystical, even feverish, heights elsewhere in Europe—Castilian Christians were reluctant to confront Christ’s suffering human body. My research suggests that when such imagery was finally introduced in significant proportions, these proportions were nonetheless limited, with the introduction occurring in the context of the Inquisition and of monastic reforms carried out by Queen Isabel of Castile and her team of ecclesiastical advisers, such as Cardinal Cisneros. It is, moreover, far from clear that Castilian viewers engaged these images, once they were produced, in ways that mirrored the practices favored by their coreligionaries elsewhere in Europe.
Pereda bases his conclusions on a paragraph from the Católica impugnación, a text penned in 1480 by Fray Hernando de Talavera: “Iten, porque es cosa razonable que las casas de los fieles cristianos sean munidas y guardadas de la memoria de la pasión de nuestro Redentor Jesucristo y de su bendita Madre, queremos y ordenamos que cada fiel cristiano tenga en la casa de su morada alguna imagen pintada de la cruz, en que nuestro Señor Jesucristo padeció, y algunas imágenes pintadas de nuestra Señora . . . que provoquen y despierten . . . a haber devoción.”
As discussed by Pereda, the Católica impugnación was authored at the request of Talavera’s patroness, Queen Isabel of Castile, in answer to a now-lost but clearly very incendiary pamphlet circulated in Seville in 1479 by a renegade converso Jew who accused Christians of idolatrous practices in their attitudes toward images. These included the new illusionism apparent in Castilian religious imagery during the final decades of the century, and Talavera consequently felt himself compelled to defend both the images and their aesthetic, noting the success of the “new style”—a reference, certainly, to Castile’s importation of Northern aesthetics—at “awakening devotion.” A close reading of the passage, however, reveals Talavera’s words to be indicative of the persistence of what I call throughout this study Castilian particularities, rather than revelatory of similarities between the production and use of religious imagery in Castile and the rest of European Christendom in 1480. Though Talavera does recommend that his readers remember the Passion, he in no way advocates a systematic or narrative re-creation of it, and the text certainly does not suggest that images be employed to facilitate such a process. Rather, Talavera indicates that a painted image of the Cross (or perhaps, in a stretch, though he does not specifically state this, of the Crucifixion) is the appropriate accompaniment to the meditations he envisions. The images of the Virgin to which he refers were probably imagined as belonging to a separate category, as both Pereda’s and the present study suggest. Moreover, the present study demonstrates that the devotion of which Talavera spoke was not predicated on Christ’s sufferings and humiliations during the Passion or on the humanity shared by the devotee with the Savior.
Significantly, descriptions of the images kept in Talavera’s own dwelling in Granada and in his private chapel indicate that he regarded them more as cult images than as devotional ones. The archbishop was careful to ensure that the proper images were displayed at each liturgical season and that each image was maintained and treated with the proper respect and care. Regarding his own particular devotions, however, information is vague. His two favorites were a Nativity and an Annunciation he had borrowed from his former convent of Santa María del Prado in Valladolid. His contact, therefore, with the Passion does not appear to have been particularly prolonged or intimate. Indeed, Pereda successfully demonstrates that, in Castile, the category of imagery to which contemporary scholarship would refer as “devotional” was completely subsumed, in terms of both style and practice, into that of the cult image.
Any effort to address the topic of religious imagery in late medieval Castile must take into full account the nature of a medieval Iberian society that remained multiconfessional through the end of the fifteenth century. Despite a long and flourishing tradition of historiography concerned with contacts, conflicts, and interchanges between members of Iberia’s three monotheistic religions, art historians, with few exceptions, persist in their adherence to a triangular model that presumes the existence of three separate visual (and religious) cultures, always defined according to characteristics culled from models elaborated to fit other contexts. The model currently in place does allow for these three cultures’ having interacted (the products of such interaction are most often categorized beneath the very troubled and troublesome rubric of “Mudéjar”), but this process is conceived as having occurred from positions neatly circumscribed by the three religions’ putatively unsullied ethnic, cultural, and confessional purities, always responding to (arbitrarily constructed and identified) “normative” models such as “Romanesque,” “Gothic,” “Islamic,” “Flemish,” and “Renaissance.”
The so-called Mudéjar phenomenon—albeit for the most part within the rather limiting strictures of the categories described above—has been debated and analyzed for well over a century. Very few scholars, however, have asked what effect the sort of multiconfessional environment that characterized Castilian cities and towns throughout the fifteenth century would have had on the production and reception of Christian religious imagery executed in the Gothic, Northern, Hispano-Flemish, or Italian Renaissance styles. It is, nonetheless, perfectly clear that the immediate physical and social context within which these processes would have occurred was one that included substantial numbers of Jews, Muslims, and recent converts from one or both religions to Christianity. The example of the converso bishops of the Santa María family of Burgos is well known, but it was hardly an exception: the archival research of numerous historians, such as Adeline Rucquoi in the case of Valladolid, has revealed the existence of vital juderías in Castilian cities through at least the middle decades of the fifteenth century. Ana Echevarría’s studies have offered valuable information concerning the special and exclusive guard of converted Muslims with whom Enrique IV surrounded himself; her most recent research, moreover, indicates that Mudéjar presence in Castilian cities, as well as in the rural locations to which previous scholarship had tended to consign them, was significant throughout the late medieval period. Segovia, during the middle decades of the fifteenth century, was home to the well-known leader of its Muslim aljama, Yça Gedelli, whose participation, along with Juan de Segovia, in the production of a trilingual Qurʾan is practically legendary. María B. López’s investigation into the archival sources documenting the construction of key religious monuments in Segovia during the second half of the fifteenth century, moreover, has revealed the names of numerous Mudéjar workmen on the payrolls who, from the looks of things, were not engaged in the production of so-called Mudéjar art but rather buildings of the very latest “Gothic” style. Though Castile warred in fits and starts with the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, and the heavily fraught controversies surrounding the conversos that plagued the middle decades of the century frequently erupted into violence, interactions between Castile and Granada and between the religious communities continued apace through the end of the fifteenth century and beyond. Both the production of religious imagery and its reception could not help but be affected by these circumstances.
The obsession with stylistic description and development, formal analysis and attribution, almost to the exclusion of all other considerations by scholarship concerned with, on the one hand, religious imagery in late medieval Castile and, on the other, the “Mudéjar” phenomenon has allowed truly compelling questions concerning the very nature of late medieval Iberian Christianity as revealed in its collective choice (or rejection) of styles, motifs, spaces, iconographic themes, and image use, despite its much-touted centuries of convivencia (or, for the purposes of this study, multiconfessionalism), to be comfortably avoided. In the chapters that follow, however, I demonstrate that these very concerns frequently dictated both the production and reception of images that have heretofore been considered exclusively in terms of their relationships to “imported” styles and aesthetics.
Christ, the Virgin, and the Passion in Françesc Eiximenis’s Vita Christi: Consequences for the Visual World
Many of the differences distinguishing the quantity, nature, and uses of late medieval religious imagery in Castile from those in other European contexts, as signaled in the previous section, are explained by the striking scarcity in Castile of devotional literature to which Christ’s humanity and Passion are central, literature that is by contrast plentiful in most European contexts. In a word, the robust quantities of Passion-related narratives, hours, prayers, and liturgies that both supported and necessitated the development of the devotional image elsewhere in late medieval Europe were not produced in Castile until the very final years of the fifteenth century. Likewise, the importation of these texts was roundly rejected by Castilian Christians, old and new. Not until the final decade of the fifteenth century did Isabelline reform sponsor the first Castilian translations of such widely distributed European devotional classics as the Meditationes Vitae Christi (hereafter MVC), Bonaventure’s Lignum vitae, and Ludolph of Saxony’s Vita Christi, all originally written during the late thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth. Indeed, these texts are only sparsely and belatedly represented in Latin in a Castilian context. In their readings of Castilian images, however, art historians often unquestioningly invoke the written sources that have proved central to the interpretation of religious images elsewhere in Europe. Ángela Franco Mata, for example, in reference to a group of fourteenth-century crucifijos dolorosos, or “painful” wooden crucifixes (all designed, as noted above, for liturgical and processional, rather than contemplative, purposes), cites the records the late-fourteenth-century holy woman and mystic Saint Bridget of Sweden kept of her visions, which did not enter Castilian libraries until the very late fifteenth century, possibly even the early sixteenth. Likewise, copious references to the MVC, as well as to the closely related Vita Christi by the Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony, are made by María Pilar Silva Maroto, in an effort to interpret images that were almost certainly not produced with these texts in mind.
One can hardly blame these scholars, however, because the devotional culture of late medieval Castile is, in general, poorly understood. Vague and unsubstantiated references, for example, to the devotio moderna continue to be made, despite the absence of manuscript evidence for such connections throughout all but the very final years of the fifteenth century. Melquíades Andrés Martín has argued for the existence of a consistent religious culture during the latter part of the fifteenth century (between 1470 and 1500, to be precise), and his study offers a useful introduction to the works available in Spain following the introduction of the printing press. Andrés signals the importance of Bonaventure (though not, it is important to emphasize, the MVC, which was mistakenly attributed to him by most medieval readers), as well as of Ramon Llull, particularly during the final decade of the century. His research, however, is based entirely on incunables, and thus it is impossible to appreciate the differences and similarities between the early and middle years of the fifteenth century and the final ones. Building on the work of other scholars who have tended to approach the problem from the point of view of specific collections, my research, though I can hardly claim that it is exhaustive—indeed, much work remains to be done in libraries and archives, and it is my hope that this study will encourage others to undertake investigations of their own—takes manuscripts very much into account and reveals that the differences are stark and significant.
Among the most important of these differences is the way in which Castilians, as revealed by the manuscript record, imagined the Passion. Castilian Christians’ experience of the Passion, until the final years of the fifteenth century, was grounded in a strikingly distinct textual panorama that is, to date, almost completely unexplored. For most European contexts, it has been convincingly argued that certain specific meditative traditions, frequently but not exclusively linked to the Franciscans, were rooted in a “mysticism of the sacred event” and focused largely, if not exclusively, on personal, narrative re-creations of Christ’s sufferings and humiliations in all of their details (and, thus, on the humanity of Christ). The most widely distributed and translated example of this genre of meditative literature was, of course, the MVC, now agreed to have been composed in a Franciscan context sometime during the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, although both Fulton and Thomas Bestul have traced the tradition that ultimately produced this “bestseller” to the Latin literature of earlier centuries. Most scholars are in agreement that the new focus on Christ’s humanity and human death, as well as on the humanity of all sacred personages of the New Testament, was intimately connected to the production and use of images in all contexts of Christian devotion, and perhaps particularly so in that of individual prayer and contemplation; the result was the category of visual material most frequently referred to as devotional images.
As noted above, the MVC was not translated into Castilian until the final decade of the fifteenth century, and it is thus impossible to argue a central place for this text in the devotional lives of Castilians. Rather, this place was occupied by a series of excerpted chapters from the Llibre del Crestià (Book for Christians), written around 1400 by the Catalan Franciscan tertiary Françesc Eiximenis. The Llibre del Crestià is a vast, multivolume compendium of largely didactic material, most of which has not been edited. Parts of it circulated separately during the fifteenth century as a Vida de Cristo, Vita Christi, or Life of Christ (hereafter VC) and were translated into Castilian in the 1430s, long before the translation of “imported” narratives of Christ’s life sponsored by Queen Isabel during the final decade of the century.
The importance of Eiximenis’s VC is not acknowledged—let alone reflected—in extant scholarship: I have not found a single mention of it in any of the secondary literature, cited thus far in this study, concerned with late medieval religious imagery in Castile. This, however, is not entirely surprising, for it is no easy task to read it. Though we know that the VC was translated in the 1430s by the Hieronymite Fray Gonzalo de Ocaña, to my knowledge no complete manuscript version of this translation survives. For Christ’s public works and Passion, I have relied on BNE MS 18772, dating to the fifteenth century, which, though it is in very poor condition, is still in its original Mudéjar binding; it contains books 8–10, though the tenth book is incomplete. Gonzalo de Ocaña was also responsible for a translation of Jacopo da Voragine’s Legenda aurea, which circulated in Castile under the titles Flos sanctorum and Santoral and into which he also wove excerpts from Eiximenis’s VC as appropriate to the season of the liturgical year or particular feast day at hand. This text has survived in several manuscript copies; for the purposes of this study, I have consulted BNE MS 780, which incorporates passages from the VC related to Christ’s conception and Infancy, and BNE MSS 12688 and 12689, which contain passages from the VC related to the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension; all are dated on paleographical grounds to the middle decades of the fifteenth century. In 1496, Fray Jeronimo de Talavera—also of the Hieronymite order and Queen Isabel’s confessor—undertook, at his own expense, an emendation and correction of Gonzalo de Ocaña’s translation, supervising its printing at the Hieronymite convent of Santa María del Prado in Valladolid, of which he had been prior. Talavera divided the VC into two volumes, the second of which—containing Christ’s Public Life and Passion—does not appear ever to have been printed. Judging from the number of copies that survive, however, the first volume attained wide distribution; for information concerning the Virgin and Christ’s Infancy, I have consulted (interchangeably) BNE I-1126 and Universidad de Salamanca I-218, both dating to the final years of the fifteenth century.
Despite its relatively difficult access for modern scholars, then, Eiximenis’s VC is preserved in a variety of contexts that indicate wide distribution during the late medieval period. It exists in single volumes designed for individual reading or meditation (though BNE MS 18772 is also large enough that it might have served for collective or liturgical reading as well); in Santorales clearly intended for use in liturgical readings, which would also have served as fodder for sermons appropriate to particular occasions or feast days; and in numerous incunables that assured, during the final years of the fifteenth century, that the text would reach (and educate) as many Christians as possible, just as Talavera wished. It also appears to have formed part of the library of at least one of Castile’s noblest families, the Benavente, about whom much more is said in the chapters that follow. Similarly, the library of the reformed Benedictine convent in Valladolid to which Don Sancho de Rojas donated the Cristo de la Cepa in the early fifteenth century contained a Santoral, which was likely of the same format as BNE MSS 780, 12688, and 12699, the latter two of which originally formed part of the library of the Marqués de Santillana. Likewise, it is possible that the Vita Xti listed as having formed part of Juan de Segovia’s library by Benigno Hernández Montes, though he identifies it as Ludolph of Saxony’s, is, in fact, Eiximenis’s; the fact that Juan de Segovia also possessed a copy of the Epistola ad Epiphanium by a certain “Teófilo” whom Eiximenis cites frequently in his chapters concerning Christ’s Infancy, makes this possibility almost a certainty. It might fairly be said, in other words, that whereas in most other European contexts the “default” version of Christ’s life that would have impacted the devotional lives of all Christians, both lay and monastic, whether directly or indirectly, was the MVC, in Castile, until the final decade of the fifteenth century, it was Eiximenis’s VC. This fact is of critical importance for our understanding of the Castilian religious panorama during the fifteenth century, and its significance cannot be overstated. Though Eiximenis’s text was never illustrated, it was, I argue, of equal importance for Castilian Christians’ perception and reception of images.
The version of Christ’s life and Passion offered by Eiximenis, as well as his presentation of the Virgin and her role in humanity’s salvation, is vastly different from those that characterize the imported texts. These differences, however, are not made evident in the small amount of extant scholarship that addresses Eiximenis’s VC. Albert G. Hauf, for example, focuses on identifying parallels between Eiximenis’s narrative and the classic Franciscan texts concerned with Christ’s Passion (in addition to the MVC, he considers Bonaventure’s Lignum vitae, De perfectione vitae ad sorores, and Officium de Passione Domini, as well as, to a lesser extent, Ubertino da Casale’s Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu). Readers who do not consult the actual texts in question are apt to come away with an exaggerated impression of the similarities between them. Unlike the MVC and other late medieval devotional texts inspired by it, Eiximenis presents his readers with a Christ who is almost exclusively divine and all-powerful, and with a visionary Virgin who is very close to his equal, herself the recipient of divine revelations and celestial knowledge independent of her more traditional role as the human vessel in which God’s divine Son was incarnated. These particular characterizations of Christ and the Virgin were almost certainly fashioned and deployed with polemical purposes in mind. Again, the implications of this fact for our interpretation of Castilian devotional culture in general—and its visual manifestations in particular—are crucial.
The consequences of Eiximenis’s concentration on Christ’s divinity over his humanity are extremely important for his treatment of the Passion. At key narrative moments for which the author of the MVC or Saint Bridget of Sweden offer explicit evocations of the stretching of tendons, filling of eyes with blood from a pierced brow, and so forth, or urgings to the reader to place him- or herself at the scene of a specific injustice or humiliation, Eiximenis instead presents his readers with highly schematic—as well as, frequently, polemical or exegetical—considerations of the various meanings that might be applied to a particular event or segment of it. Indeed, the text itself is regularly punctuated by entire chapters that are didactic or exegetical in intent. These priorities permit Eiximenis to neatly avoid detailed or prolonged treatment of the specific physical indignities and sufferings inflicted upon the human Christ during his Passion, themes that figured largely in meditations authored and disseminated in other European contexts.
Both Eiximenis and his Castilian appropriators, moreover, not only made a conscious decision not to adopt but also evidence a decided discomfort with such meditations as those counseled by the author of the MVC. From the Passion meditations (Como deve pensar el cristiano en cristo cruçificado) of Eiximenis’s VC comes the following statement: “El que quiere co[n]te[m]plar largamente las injurias [y] denuestos ql salvador rescibio lea el planto q[ue] fizo el bien ave[n]turado S[a]n Bernardo [y] el tractado de las siete horas que fue fecho en memoria de la passion del Salvador [y] otros tractados nuevos q[ue] han seydo fechos de algunos doctores de aq[u]este tiempo [y] en ellos podra fallar materia asas larga” (Santoral, BNE MS 12688, fol. 386r).
After mentioning the “planctus made by the blessed Saint Bernard” (known to most of modern scholarship as the Quis dabit) and the “treatise on the Seven Hours” (both discussed further in chapters 2 and 4), Eiximenis makes reference to a sermon by “San Cirillo” and then states that those who wish to engage in more lugubrious contemplations are free to consult other texts, where they will find, as a more extensive version of the passage recorded in BNE MS 18772 puts it, “larga materia de contemplar y llorar los amargosos dolores y penas y pasiones de nuestro Salvador” (lengthy material in order to contemplate and weep over the bitter pains and sorrows and passions of our Savior; fol. 141v). Eiximenis, for his part, will leave this material out, both in order to maintain his treatise at a suitable length and “por tirar enojos a los oyentes”—in order not to bore, or even annoy, his listeners. The only counterpoints to this current of which I am aware are the extremely incendiary sermons of the renowned Dominican preacher and “rabble-rouser” Saint Vincent Ferrer, who, though Valencian, preached in numerous Castilian cities during the first decades of the fifteenth century; mass conversions were frequently the result. Saint Vincent’s sermons are preserved in numerous Castilian manuscripts of the fifteenth century (e.g., SLE M.II.6), attesting to their wide distribution, owing at least in part to his fame as a preacher whose success derived largely from the numerous conversions effected by his oratory prowess. Commemorations dedicated to Ferrer, likewise, are frequent after his canonization in the 1450s (e.g., BNE MS 6326, fols. 191r–v). Ferrer’s sermons, particularly during the Easter season, were known for their harrowing evocations of the physical particulars both of the Passion and of Judgment Day. The Dominican’s intent, however, as demonstrated by the crowds of newly converted Jews who frequently accompanied him, naked to the waist in order to facilitate their public self-flagellation, was to induce repentance and conversion rather than somatic identification and mystical union.
The concerns, then, of the MVC and the VC could not be more different. The author of the MVC, whose almost “novelistic” qualities have been noted by numerous scholars, titles all of his chapters “contemplations” and repeatedly urges the reader to use the faculties of imagination and visualization in order to place her- or himself within a certain scene, so that the events related might be experienced as though they were occurring before the devotee’s very eyes. The author carefully explains the process of contemplation that is expected. Readers are to move methodically from one scene to another, rather than allow their minds to wander, in disorderly fashion, from one theme or topic to another (perhaps a reference to more associative or conceptual types of meditation, a topic to which I return frequently in the following chapters). For the purposes of this discussion with his readers, moreover, the anonymous author of the MVC appears to limit the definition of “contemplation” specifically—and indeed almost exclusively—to the narrative reconstruction of Christ’s life (BNE MS 9560, fols. 1v–3v). Once the chapters concerning the Passion itself are reached (beginning on fol. 101r), the author advises devotees to consider the things contained therein closely and carefully (escudriñar mucho), with even greater vigilance (con mucho mayor vigilançia) than they have done with the events narrated up to this point. The devotee should “place his [or her] heart here [in this task] with affection and diligence, little by little, and with perseverance—not jumping from one thing to another—not with annoyance of the heart” ([ponga] tu coraçon y tu fuerça aquí con afecçión y diligençia y poco a poco y con perseverançia non saltando de uno en otro ni con enojo de coraçon). The meditations that follow are entirely focused on Christ’s sufferings and humiliations. No mention is made of his divinity; indeed, in the context of the Flagellation, readers are instructed to “divert their eyes from his divinity and consider him as only a man” (Mas quita un poco los ojos de su deydad y considera lo puro ombre; fol. 105v). Particularly if images were involved in these contemplations—as we know they frequently were —it is easy to imagine this text serving to facilitate just the process of mimesis reconstructed, for example, by Camille for the well-known panel by Meister Francke, referenced above.
Though Eiximenis’s VC does include a few chapters to which the author refers as “contemplations,” these tend to be abstract, conceptual, and associative (just the sort of contemplation, in fact, frowned upon by the anonymous author of the MVC), frequently involving considerations of Christ’s (or God’s or the Virgin’s) qualities and attributes (e.g., chap. CXLIII: “Contemplaçion sobre la alteza de ihesu cristo et sobre las grandes señales que fueron fechas aquella noche” [Contemplation of the loftiness of Jesus Christ, and concerning the great signs that were made that night]; BNE I-1126, fol. 94r). These contemplations, in other words, serve to reinforce, not Christ’s humanity, but his divinity. Rather than exhort his readers (or listeners) to use their imaginative faculties in order to place themselves at a certain event and experience it together with its holy protagonists, Eiximenis punctuates his chapters with didactic passages, offering intricate series of puntos, or points, which explicate a particular passage, theorem, doctrine, or event. Likewise, he frequently sums up much longer treatises by other authors (often polemicists) and thus makes available to his readers, both in the vernacular and in summary, “digestible” form, the principal arguments by which they would either be reinforced in the beliefs they already hold or convinced of Christian truth.
Eiximenis’s text, in other words, encourages debate, critical thinking, and exegesis, rather than narrative participation. Indeed, as Fray Hernando de Talavera states in the short prologue he added to his own emended and corrected translation of Eiximenis’s text, “Ca quiso la piedad de nuestro señor para que mas meresciessemos que toviessemos alguna necesidad de ocupar y exercitar nuestros entendimientos en catar y escudriñar los mysterios et cosas escuras delos sanctos evangelios, tanbien como las otras sanctas escripturas” (BNE I-1126, fol. Ir). It appears, in other words, that Eiximenis wished to make exegetes of his readers. This point figures prominently in the chapters that follow.
Eiximenis’s VC is also a visionary text. Information concerning the incarnations and births of both Christ and the Virgin is presented as a series of divine revelations, communicated to a lengthy succession of recognized Old Testament visionaries and prophets, as well as to—and, perhaps of equal importance, through—the Virgin herself. These visions and divine revelations, in turn, result in divine illumination and ecstasy, as in the chapter entitled “Como la anima de aquel sancto ioseph estava arrobada en las cosas y novedades que veya fazer en derredor del salvador” (How the soul of that most saintly Joseph was raptured up into ecstasy by the astonishing things that he saw done concerning the Savior; BNE I-1126, chap. CXL, fol. 93v). Rather than homey and humble, as it is portrayed in the MVC, the Incarnation is, for Eiximenis, literally incomprehensible to the human intellect: “Onde dize damasceno que aquesta sagrada union es assi alta que es sobre todas otras uniones criadas, y no es enxemplo ninguno que ombre pueda dar en natura que perfectamente le a entender el alteza y perfeccion desta santa union y encarnacion” (BNM I-1126, fol. vii r).
Whereas, in other words, the author of the MVC hopes to make everything understandable and accessible to his readers, Eiximenis wants the details of Christ’s life, as well as those of the Virgin’s, to humble his readers through the knowledge that they are beyond human understanding. Whereas the MVC turns the holy and the ineffable into the familiar props of readers’ everyday surroundings, Eiximenis converts the quotidian details of the lives of holy personages into the stuff of divine illumination and celestial revelation. Given, on the one hand, the importance of Eiximenis’s VC for the arguments offered in this study and, on the other, the presently difficult access to that text, I beg the reader’s indulgence concerning the long passages from it, and from other unpublished original sources, that I have chosen to include, together with their English translations, in the text and notes of the chapters that follow, instead of relegating them to a section of appendixes.
Devotion in a Multiconfessional Castile During the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
In most European contexts, devotees’ encounters with such images as those discussed in the preceding pages would have been intimate. This intimacy formed part of an affective piety firmly rooted in the devotee’s consciousness of the humanity he or she shared with the suffering or dead Christ, or with the Virgin in her capacity as his human mother, and frequently involved the narrative re-creation of salient moments from the lives of those personages, with particular emphasis on the Passion. Hans Belting characterizes both this experience and the practices that fostered it as governed by the concept of mimesis, that is, the conscious imitation of the human Christ with the ultimate goal of achieving mystical union with him on the basis of qualities that the devotee comes to share. In fact, for Belting, the very concept of devotion (devotio) is predicated on an “intersubjective relation between Jesus and the contemplating believer,” one that is both embodied and facilitated by the “Passion portrait (Imago Pietatis).” Belting states the matter as follows: “The mimetic capacity of the viewer, to which the Imago Pietatis appeals, presupposes the viewer’s (mimetic, as it were) desire to imitate or ‘resemble’ in life the human Jesus—which of course was revealed in the image.” Experience of the image is “an experience of likeness. Jesus offers a ‘pitiful image’ . . . [and] appears in a state in which the viewer can obtain affective access to Him.”
In a Castilian context, the adjective devoto is indeed used to describe what was probably an almost life-sized wooden crucifix of the sort discussed earlier. The “crucifijo asaz devoto” hung in the chapel of a hospital dedicated to the Magdalene constructed by Gomez Gonçalez, archdeacon of Cuéllar, in 1429, most likely atop a beam or grate placed above the entrance to the capilla mayor, where the altar was located, as is typical in Castilian churches. However, given the differences between the history of the religious image in late medieval Castile and the trajectory it followed elsewhere in Europe, as well as the Castilian public’s preferences for texts such as Eiximenis’s VC over the better-studied European “Passion classics,” it appears certain that viewers of the Cuéllar crucifix would have had an experience of it very different from that posited by Belting for the Imago Pietatis. Similarly, comments made by Hieronymite Fray Hernando de Talavera, archbishop of Granada, concerning the capacity of a “painted image of the Cross on which Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered” and “painted images of Our Lady” to “provoke and awaken” viewers to “devotion,” when considered against the textual panorama sketched in the preceding section, should not be taken as indicative of broad similarities between the Castilian context and elsewhere in Europe.
The Cristo de la Cepa incited devotion on the basis of its conversionary powers, suggesting a conflation of “belief” and “devotion” that is almost certainly applicable to the Cuéllar Crucifix, as well as to the images referenced by Talavera, as is demonstrated in the chapters that follow. This conflation of the two concepts, however, does not fully explain or articulate the differences between the devotional experience in Castile and that which—at least according to the current scholarly status quo—Christians sought to create for themselves elsewhere in Europe. Again, we might pose the question, what did Castilian Christians experience when they felt “devotion,” and how did they employ meditation, reading, contemplation, and, in some cases, images in order to achieve this experience? As I stated in the opening paragraphs, a large part of the research that has gone into this project has been motivated by a desire to provide an answer—at least in part—to these questions.
To this end, and given that practically nothing has been written on the subject, I have examined dozens, maybe even hundreds, of manuscripts, produced both in Castile and elsewhere: essentially, any text that might arguably be in some way related to the concept or the practice of devotion was fair game, and the goal was to identify both similarities and differences between the Castilian devotional landscape and that which prevailed elsewhere in Europe. To sum up several years and countless hours of research, it is fair to say that the differences I have identified between devotional practices and preferences in Castile and those in other contexts reflect the differences outlined in the two preceding sections of this chapter: just as narrative or graphic renditions of Christ’s humanity, sufferings, and Passion are largely absent from the visual record, and just as they are firmly rejected on numerous occasions by Eiximenis throughout his widely distributed VC, so do these elements appear to have been, until the final two decades of the fifteenth century, almost completely absent from Castilians’ prayers and meditations.
Other concepts and topoi, however, were present, and they may be traced in a group of texts that I have provisionally identified as typical of the Castilian devotional landscape; all enjoyed demonstrably wide distribution. These texts include Psalters of the Virgin; anonymous sermons on the Passion centered exclusively on the Virgin’s experience of that event; series of meditations on the Life of Christ that mirror almost exactly the concerns and topoi central to Eiximenis’s VC; the Hours of the Passion of the Virgin; an unicum manuscript of meditations on the Virgin dating to the final years of the fourteenth century or the first ones of the fifteenth, which was previously in the collection of the Cathedral of Ávila; meditations on the Crucified Christ and a treatise on contemplation authored by Eiximenis; and a Life of the Virgin composed for Doña Leonor de Pimentel, Countess of Plasencia, by her Dominican confessor. Most of these texts are unpublished and unstudied, but are addressed in detail in the appropriate sections of the five chapters that follow. Here, however, I intend only to highlight common traits in order to establish the rough outlines of a uniquely Castilian devotional landscape—one that appears to have obtained until the final years of the fifteenth century, and certain traits of which persisted well beyond the Isabelline reforms.
In an earlier section, I alluded to the Cristo de la Cepa as representative of the very process of transformation; although the observation was made in passing, the idea of spiritual transformation is in fact at the very heart of Castilians’ understanding of devotion. Though the image-centered process of mimesis posited by Belting—which Camille characterized as an “erotics of vision”—might also be conceived as one of transformation, this is a change rooted largely in the realm of the physical: through visual and mental evocations of the Savior’s suffering and wounds, devotees attempt to achieve likeness to, and ultimately union with, him. By contrast, the process of transformation sought by Castilian devotees is mental and spiritual, rooted in abstract qualities—such as greatness, goodness, or power—upon which the devotee meditates in order to share. Though images may be involved in this process, they are not integral to it. Like the Christological piety that typified other European contexts, this process in fact has as its ultimate goal union with the divine; in sharp contrast to it, however, the realm of the somatic and the physical is transcended entirely.
To many readers, this process will sound similar to the path toward mystical union proposed by Sufi Islam, in which the devotee meditates on, and ultimately assumes, the sifāt allāh, or, literally, the “characteristics of God”; this is hardly a frivolous comparison and probably would not have seemed so to most fifteenth-century Castilians. Other topoi—also of the abstract, nonnarrative sort that appeared to disturb the author of the MVC—comprise a list of abstract qualities upon which the devotee meditates: interiority; divine revelation; the importance of the heart as a place, not of narrative vision, but of ecstatic transformation; a mysticism and process of meditation firmly grounded in exegesis rather than in narration; and ecstatic visions visited suddenly upon the devotee in the form of divine rays of light or lightning. Like meditation on God’s abstract qualities, all of these topoi find remarkable parallels in the Sufi lexicon, and these parallels are not accidental. Rather, as I attempt to demonstrate in the chapters that follow, they are not only deliberate but also fundamental to the concept of Christian devotion in late medieval Castile.
If comparative research has been scarce on the ground in art-historical circles, it has been key in shaping the study of the alumbrado movement and, more generally, the spectacular flowering of Christian mysticism that characterized Spain’s Golden Age in the sixteenth century. As scholars such as Miguel Asin Palacios and, more recently, Luce López-Baralt have persuasively argued, both of these phenomena were heavily impacted by both Islamic and Jewish thought. Stefania Pastore, moreover, has recently demonstrated important historical connections between converso spirituality of the fifteenth century (in which she involves a number of key figures of Castilian religious thought, particularly those affiliated with the Hieronymite order) and the alumbrado movement of the sixteenth. Many intermediaries—including the Moriscos, the conversos, and earlier Jewish and Islamic religious mystical literature, both in its original languages and in translation—have been proposed through which the interchanges necessary to produce such a phenomenon might have been effected.
Such specific comparative enterprises as those attempted by Asín and López-Baralt are, however, somewhat stymied at present: despite the numerous and striking huellas del islam that indisputably exist in San Juan de la Cruz’s lyrics and commentary, or throughout the vast corpus of writings produced by Santa Teresa de Jesús, in the end we are always left with a chronological and geographical gap between Persia or Baghdad and al-Andalus, between Ibn ʿArabī’s day and San Juan’s—an unbridgeable divide to some, a cause for caution for many. We still need to close the gap between the twelfth century and the late fifteenth and early sixteenth, and very little, to date, has been done in this respect. This study represents, at least in part, a first step toward closing that gap.
One question that has always seemed most perplexing to me is why these “Semitic” characteristics would appear in Castilian Christian mysticism precisely in the sixteenth century, decades after the introduction of the Inquisition and at a moment in which members of medieval Iberia’s “other” two faiths were under intense pressure to convert to Christianity, with ever harsher consequences promised to those who refused to do so. Several links in the chain seem to be missing, and one of the most important is a strong body of scholarship concerned with the practice of religion and devotional life in the Nasrid sultanate of Granada. We know that the Nasrids were supporters of the Mālikī school of law and interpretation and that they were assiduous patrons of Sufism, sponsoring large public celebrations featuring performances of dhikr by local mystics on the Mawlid, or the day of the Prophet’s birth. But we do not possess detailed knowledge concerning what schools of Sufi thought were most popular, what sermons were preached, what books were owned, or what prayers were prayed. Neither are we able to say in specific terms, on the one hand, how these might have been similar to or different from those preferred by the Marinids of Morocco, the Hafsunids of Tunisia, the Mamluks of Egypt, or the Ilkhanids of Iran or, on the other, whether the similarities elucidated by Asín and López-Baralt between San Juan’s lyrics and the mysticism of earlier Eastern writers and saintly figures, or even that of Ibn ʿArabī, continued into the Nasrid period and are present in contexts and ways that might suggest their interaction with Christian motifs and topoi (though it is my strong suspicion that they are). We simply do not know, and there are vast amounts of textual and archival research to be done before we can say that we do. Therefore, all suggestions made in this study concerning specific connections between the Castilian devotional panorama I reconstruct and the spiritual landscape of the Nasrid kingdom during the final century of its existence should be taken as just that; they may be confirmed, enhanced, nuanced, complicated, or even contradicted by research to be undertaken in the next several years.
Despite these caveats, my findings point toward certain general conclusions. Among the most important of these is that the survival into the sixteenth century of many of the devotional topoi and motifs that López-Baralt—rightly, in my opinion—reads as in some way connected to Islamic mystical traditions was arguably assured by the perceived validity of these motifs in the sphere of interconfessional debate and polemic and by their consequent reification in the context of more private devotions. Indeed, it could be argued that Castilian ecclesiastics of the fifteenth century were driven by a collective desire to understand the intricate workings of both Judaism and Islam, not so that they might live peacefully with their adherents, but rather in order better to seduce those adherents toward Christian truth. Pereda notes that Fray Hernando de Talavera possessed a copy of the Qurʾan in Latin, probably a copy of the translation made by Robert of Ketene for Peter the Venerable. Likewise, the Biblioteca de Santa Cruz, in Valladolid, houses a number of manuscripts that originally belonged to the convent of San Benito—including a copy of Fray Pedro de Alcalá’s Arte para ligeramente saber la lengua araviga; a manuscript copy of the (probably apocryphal) letters of the newly converted “Rabi Samuel,” whose importance is discussed in detail in the following chapter; and a copy, in Hebrew, of the Hebrew Bible —which suggest that its inhabitants, too, were preparing to engage in debate with “infidels.”
The intellectual culture of the “other” side of this interchange—that is, of the “infidels” with whom these ecclesiastics desired to interact—is not easy to reconstruct, although this appears to be changing, slowly but surely, for the better. Though Castile’s Mudéjar communities have traditionally been characterized as rural and intellectually impoverished, research currently under way by Ana Echevarría is revealing a much denser urban network than has heretofore been suspected, one for which it might eventually be possible to propose a scenario of textual preservation and transmission similar to that recently reconstructed by Kathryn Miller for Aragón. It is likely, then, that Echevarría’s findings will serve to demonstrate that the case of Yça Gedelli, leader of Segovia’s Mudéjar aljama, and his interactions with contemporary Christian nobles and ecclesiastics—which are crucial to a number of the arguments to be offered in this study—was the norm, rather than the exception. Similarly, Linda Jones’s research has begun to reconstruct the world of public exhortatory preaching (waʿz) in medieval Andalusī and Mudéjar communities, suggesting that concerns with repentance and asceticism were shared with contemporary Castilian Christians and demonstrating that the Sufi practice of dhikr—which participants hoped would lead them to mystical ecstasy—was routinely public and was frequently associated with that of preaching. The Nasrids’ entertainment of Sufis who practiced dhikr on the Prophet’s birthday, in other words, far from constituting a quaint or quixotic anecdote, now appears as part of a much larger tradition and practice. It is thus possible to begin to imagine Eiximenis, Talavera, and their Muslim contemporaries as moving and acting in intersecting, rather than merely parallel, worlds.
One of the most frequently discussed of the contexts in which members of Castile’s different confessional groups encountered one another is that of public celebrations. Pereda, for example, notes the occasion, in 1485, on which Fray Alonso de Burgos (who, though it has never been conclusively demonstrated, was probably a converso), founder of the Dominican convent and studium of San Gregorio in Valladolid, was inaugurated as bishop of Palencia in the city’s cathedral. In the course of the procession, Palencia’s rabbi ceremoniously handed him a copy of the Torah, and the bishop “hizo acatamiento como a Ley de Dios, porque dice que era la Santa Escritura del Testamento Viejo” (treated it with the reverence due the Law of God, because he said it was the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament). Palencia’s Mudéjar community also participated with songs and dances. As both David Nirenberg and Pereda caution, however, these occasions should not be interpreted naively, whether as manifestations of a disinterested and innocent convivencia or as opportunities for the transparent diffusion or interchange of “influences.” The participation of religious minorities in Christian religious celebrations was frequently obligatory, and, as Nirenberg has argued, these carefully orchestrated demonstrations of community solidarity and confessional submission should be viewed against a larger panorama that also included irruptions of violence and persecution, themselves often equally choreographed and ritualized. These occasions, moreover, as much as opportunities for contact and the exchange of “influence,” represented a chance for groups to sharpen the edges of collective identities in order better to differentiate themselves from “others” who understood them—and whom they understood—all too well. It is against a backdrop like this that texts such as Eiximenis’s VC, as well as those enumerated at the beginning of this section, should be considered. I argue that Eiximenis, whose VC served the purposes both of private reading and meditation and of public sermon preaching, carefully and deliberately deployed common topoi and motifs—particularly those of divine revelation, exegesis, and mystical enlightenment—in order to stake claims of chronological precedence and truth so as to pave the way for the conversion of “infidels” to Christianity. The other texts to be examined, in turn, demonstrate that these same motifs were quickly internalized to form the core of Castilians’ private devotions.
This crossing of polemical and devotional boundaries by texts, motifs, and images finds a particularly relevant precedent in the work of Ramon Llull, which was notably popular among a Castilian public and is important to a number of the arguments made here. Harvey Hames’s reconstruction of the sorts of interchanges that produced such a figure as Llull during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries has been crucial to my own conceptualization of such a process for a slightly later period. Llull’s work is driven, argues Hames, by the conviction that discourse and debate based in combinations of topoi culled from a set of symbols recognized, understood, and accepted by members of all three traditions would make the inevitable Christian triumph all the more meaningful. Hames devotes particular attention to this technique as a driving creative force in the Llibre del gentil et dels tres savis, which we know to have been translated into Castilian. Indeed, it would appear that Llull’s desire that his vernacular writings reach a broad audience and incite readers to engage in just the sort of debate he portrayed came to full fruition in Castile. In a previous publication, I argued for the existence there of a multiconfessional dialogue based in the deployment of trees for both polemical and devotional purposes that drew heavily on Llull’s writings; this development appears to have reached its zenith during the late fourteenth century, though it persisted throughout the fifteenth and beyond. For later periods, one fifteenth-century manuscript copy of the Castilian translation of the Llibre del gentil et dels tres savis, complete with prefatory diagrammatic illustrations and filled with the sorts of motifs that were central to Castilian devotional sensibilities, is bound with an anonymous treatise designed to aid Christians in engaging in persuasive discussions with “infidels” (BL Add. 14040).
Throughout the chapters that follow, I argue that Eiximenis’s VC, together with the broader group of texts mentioned at the beginning of this section, many of which are both related to and derived from it, employs carefully calculated characterizations of Christ and the Virgin in order to engage both Judaism and Islam. Respecting the latter, attention appears to have been focused specifically on Shādhilī mysticism, which was widely practiced by Iberian Muslims, with pointed engagement of the concepts of revelation, prophethood, divine rapture, and transformation, and with the ultimate objectives of convincing and converting. In addition to downplaying (or completely avoiding) Christ’s humanity and suffering, these texts frequently marshal a quasi-divine Virgin, whose numerous similarities to the Qurʾanic Maryam are certainly not accidental, as the unimpeachable source of revelations concerning Christ’s identity as God’s own Son, as well as a fount of divine revelation designed specifically to challenge Sufi (and, more generally, Muslim) conceptions of these ideas. Eiximenis’s Virgin and Christ do, of course, share certain characteristics with their manifestations in devotional literature produced elsewhere in Europe. These similarities, however, though they have been the focus of most previous research on the topic, are not particularly revealing of the nature of Castilian devotional culture. As noted by Hames, Llull’s concept of mystical ascent is indeed generally similar in both structure and symbolic language to that found in the work of Bonaventure, but imitation of Bonaventure was clearly not Llull’s primary intention; the same can be asserted for Eiximenis. The similarities exhibited by the work of both authors to Jewish and Islamic models, on the other hand, were both deliberate and calculated. Both Llull and Eiximenis appear to have been conscious, as were the authors of a number of the texts to be examined in this study, that dialogue and disputatio are only possible when they start out from a basis of common or shared knowledge or concepts; it stands to reason that those who participated in this sort of dialogue knew which these were (and which they were not) and chose accordingly. The explosion of production and patronage of religious images that characterized the Castilian artistic panorama during the second half of the fifteenth century has traditionally been considered evidence of Castile’s turning firmly toward Europe (and, implicitly, away from its mongrel past) and has thus been studied in books and disciplines other than those that consider the issues raised in the preceding paragraphs. It is the task of the five chapters that follow to demonstrate that Castile’s Italianate and Hispano-Flemish images may—and, indeed, must—be considered together with their multiconfessional devotional landscape, for they are part of it.
Chapter 1 employs both the Retablo of Ciudad Rodrigo, produced during the final two decades of the fifteenth century, and a number of unpublished or little-studied texts—in addition to Eiximenis’s VC, these include Rabbi Abner’s Libro de las tres creençias, as well as commentaries on the Mass and the Credo—in order to argue that, far from offering devotees a meditative path toward somatic union with Christ, the narration of Christ’s life, whether in text or in images, was for most Castilian Christians throughout at least the first three quarters of the fifteenth century an inherently polemical activity, one in which Christ’s divinity is consistently highlighted at the expense of his humanity. Indeed, I argue that religious polemic and potential or hoped-for conversion were the most important motivations behind the production of texts such as Eiximenis’s, and they are also clearly reflected in the iconographic program of Ciudad Rodrigo’s enormous altarpiece, as well as in those of a large majority of the Life of Christ retablos produced in Castile during the final quarter of the fifteenth century.
The chapter goes on to argue that the polemical nature as well as the perceived efficacy of this material conceived principally for the public spheres of debate and preaching also strongly impacted devotions in the private or extraliturgical sphere. An excellent example of this easy passage of “public” texts into the realm of private devotion is found in an apocryphal series of letters attributed to a converted Jew in the North African city of Sijilmasa, addressed to a rabbi in Fez, in which the converso refutes, point by point, all Jewish objections to Christian theology and dogma; particular attention is paid to the Passion, the Incarnation, and the Trinity. These letters were, as the story went, translated from Arabic into Latin and then into Castilian; they were later widely circulated and were often bound with other texts destined for use in private devotions. Similarly, retablos such as that of Ciudad Rodrigo were envisioned by their patrons primarily as indispensable tools, amid the heightened political and religious tensions of the final third of the fifteenth century, in the conversion and representation of orthodoxy. Iconographic themes similar to those around which the Retablo of Ciudad Rodrigo is centered, however, are also reflected in a series of images—the so-called Retablo Saldaña, the cloister paintings of the Cathedral of León, and the so-called Retablo of the Flagellation—conceived for private or extraliturgical devotion, suggesting that many Castilians preferred a divine and all-powerful Christ in their personal as well as their public religious lives.
Chapter 1 closes with an examination of two anonymous Life of Christ texts that were composed for the purposes of meditation. Unlike the material considered in the preceding sections, these treatises engage the reader’s emotions and imagination through the deployment of detailed description and narrative, thereby fostering empathetic relationships between the holy personages—among them Christ himself—and the devotee. These texts, however, are only preserved in monastic contexts and do not seem ever to have been translated into the vernacular. Their treatment of the somatic details of Christ’s sufferings, moreover, pales in comparison to that afforded the topic in better-known narrations of the Passion, and their effect on the broader panorama of Castilian devotional culture was minimal. Moreover, they are also shaped by a number of the larger devotional concerns enumerated earlier, which appear to have affected all realms and strata of the Castilian devotional landscape; thus, they serve as an important bridge to the later chapters’ analysis of material in the Castilian vernacular relating specifically to the Passion.
As demonstrated in the concluding section to chapter 1, meditations on the Crucified Christ were not entirely absent from the Castilian devotional landscape. The consumption of the two texts around which that section centered, however, was limited to monastic circles, and very particular ones at that. Chapter 2 opens with a close reading of passages of Eiximenis’s VC that, in contrast, were intended to instruct large numbers of readers, in the vernacular, in meditation on precisely this topic, but the process they propose could not be more different from the empathetic, narrative focus of the sort of somatic meditations habitually counseled and practiced in other Christian circles throughout Europe. These passages, which also appear in Eiximenis’s Libro de los ángeles, are preserved in a variety of manuscript formats, and their wide distribution is thus assured. Eiximenis’s meditations are never transmitted with images, and I argue that they were associated with them only tangentially, if at all. Readers are never directly confronted with Christ’s broken and suffering (human) body; rather, they are presented with the portrait of a divine and all-powerful Savior composed of a series of metaphors primarily derived from the more poetic books of the Old Testament. Christ’s body is presented as a space or a container, continually in transformation, into which devotees may enter in order to be, themselves, transformed, implicitly so that they might be made “like” Christ. This process of mimesis, however, operates on the basis of spiritual transformation and the acquisition of similar qualities, rather than on the principle of a shared humanity.
The second section of this chapter signals striking similarities between the principles upon which Eiximenis’s text operates and those that drive mystical treatises and lyrics penned by important Andalusī Sufis, such as Ibn ʿArabī and al-Shushtarī. Rather than argue for direct or unidirectional “influence,” however, I suggest, according to the principles outlined above, that these similarities are reflective of a centuries-long dialogue, albeit frequently combative or polemical, surrounding the identity and description of the Divine Beloved. I also propose that this dialogue is reflected in the selection, translation, and dissemination of such “imported” texts as the Doctrina cordis and the Stimulus amoris in Castile during the early and middle decades of the fifteenth century, processes facilitated by a strong taste among members of the Castilian public for devotional literature authored by Ramon Llull (frequently, in fact, these texts—Eiximenis’s, Llull’s, and Castilian translations of the Doctrina cordis and the Stimulus amoris—may be shown to have formed part of the same libraries). The result is a stunningly abstract and lyrical portrait of the Crucified Christ.
In the final section of chapter 2, I consider the ways in which Castilians understood meditation and contemplation—as well as the place of the Crucified Christ in those practices—through the lens of a little-discussed treatise on contemplation contained in the final chapters of a didactic work on moral and social comportment and self-governance composed by Eiximenis for a principally female audience, the Llibre de les dones, or, in its widely disseminated Castilian translation, the Carro de las donas. Eiximenis describes a three-part process, comprising a via purgativa, a via illuminativa, and a via unitiva, clearly based in twelfth-century standards such as the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Victorines, which displays many similarities to, for example, Saint Bonaventure’s. Eiximenis’s, however, is a process in which the Crucified Christ plays only the most limited of roles; the language is abstract and is closely tied to diligent study of the scriptures. His via unitiva, moreover, is subtly different from Bonaventure’s on a few key points: true enlightenment or illumination is not earned or achieved by the devotee but rather granted to him or her by divine decree, and this enlightenment or illumination occurs in the form of divine rapture. I compare Eiximenis’s method of contemplation to the slightly earlier procedure coined by one of al-Andalus’s most prominent schools of Sufi mysticism, the Shādhilīs, finding numerous and provocative points of similarity. In the conclusion, I propose not only that both groups were acutely aware of these similarities but also that they carefully constructed and manipulated them in the service of rival claims concerning prophethood and revelation.
Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to an examination, through texts and images, of the Castilian Virgin in both her triumphant and her suffering incarnations. Though Castile’s veneration of the Virgin in many ways participates in and is similar to cults of the Mother of God that typified other European and the Mediterranean contexts, it also differs from those practices—largely owing to the multiconfessional particularities of the devotional panorama sketched thus far. As Felipe Pereda, Francisco Prado-Vilar, Amy Remensnyder, and Gretchen Starr-LeBeau have demonstrated, the Virgin was ably deployed by both kings and ecclesiastics in the ongoing project to convert infidels at least as early as the reign of Alfonso X (d. 1284); her perceived efficacy, moreover, must have been great, because such tactics continued to be deployed into the sixteenth century. As explored in chapter 3, my research shows that the Virgin’s place in Castilian devotions, much like her son’s, was strongly influenced by her role in polemical spheres and that devotions to her are frequently inspired or made more fervent when her perceived role in conversion is taken into account. The chapter begins with a reconstruction of some of the processes through which Castilian devotees addressed and engaged this triumphant Virgin. The quasi-divine prophetess and celestial visionary who distinguishes Eiximenis’s VC is crucial to Castilian conceptions of the Virgin. Eiximenis’s Virgin, moreover, is, on many points, strikingly—and, I suggest, deliberately—similar to the Qurʾanic Maryam. Indeed, Eiximenis appears deliberately and knowingly to manipulate such characteristics as Mary’s association with light and her status as a prophetess, together with a number of carefully selected early Christian sources, in order to claim that the Christian Virgin is both superior and chronologically precedent to the Qurʾanic Maryam in her possession of characteristics and abilities that would ostensibly appeal to a Muslim audience and perhaps induce them to convert.
Eiximenis’s creation of his Virgin was impacted by earlier texts, in terms of both her specific characteristics and her potential polemical and conversionary value. These include, on the one hand, writings by Ramon Llull and, on the other, a unique—and unedited—handbook or encyclopedia of Marian devotions that came to Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional (BNE MS 8952, Mariale sive de laudibus Beatae Virginis) from the cathedral library at Ávila following the exclaustration movement of the nineteenth century; it was almost certainly produced there. Among other things, the treatise compares Mary to twenty-six different kinds of trees, and it is through these comparisons that readers are introduced to a stoic and even ecstatic interpretation of Mary’s experience of her son’s Passion that clearly must have informed Eiximenis’s slightly later interpretation of the subject.
Other texts to be highlighted in this chapter, in turn, were clearly marked by Eiximenis’s Virgin. Included among these is a group of Salterios (or, as this text is identified in one case, Breviarios) de la Virgen (Psalters or Breviaries of the Virgin). The Psalter and certain of the hours from the breviary are present in five of the manuscripts I have consulted in the BNE (BNE MSS 9533, 9541—which appears to have been an exact copy of 9533, though large parts of the second half of the text are missing—6326, 6539, and 276), and many more copies must have disappeared over the centuries. Unedited and completely unstudied, these texts contain the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament, rewritten and rededicated to the Virgin. Earlier examples (BNE MSS 9533 and 9541) have the Psalms provided with versicles, antiphons, and responses and arranged so that they might serve as daily devotions at each of the canonical hours throughout the week; they also contain the offices for the major feast days of the Virgin and are thus also identified as breviaries.
Most salient among these texts, however, is a Life of the Virgin (BNE MS 103) composed for Doña Leonor de Pimentel, Countess of Plasencia, during the middle decades of the fifteenth century by her Dominican confessor, Juan López de Salamanca. The Life stops with the Incarnation, though it is not entirely clear whether a second volume might have been planned. The Virgin’s answers to the questions posed to her by the countess contain tree and plant traits that link this text to the earlier tradition represented by Llull and BNE MS 8952. Likewise, the more sordid aspects of the Passion are studiously avoided (indeed, at one point, when questioned by the countess concerning her son’s human death, the Queen of Heaven refuses to speak of the matter); instead, focus is maintained on the importance of the Incarnation (as opposed to the Passion) in mankind’s salvation, with lengthy sections devoted specifically to the exposition of the importance of the Virgin in that process. One of the most interesting passages is a verse-by-verse exegesis of the Magnificat pronounced by the Virgin to her devotee, the countess. The theme of the Immaculate Conception, likewise, receives extended treatment. López de Salamanca’s text, finally, like many of those that inspired it, was, I argue, composed with an eye toward current polemical battles with Islam, with the Virgin presented essentially as the perfect Sufi mystic, in a deliberate attempt to “out-Shādhilī” the Shādhilīs.
The writings and treatises examined here represent a survival or a prolongation of the “exegetical” interpretations that are described by Fulton as typical of earlier centuries but that were replaced by the emotive, narrative “mysticism of the sacred event” that came to the forefront during the thirteenth century. Given Castilians’ reticence before the graphic representation of the Passion, however, such a prolongation or survival is in fact a creative response to needs that the imported treatises did not fulfill: the careful cloaking of harsh somatic realities beneath the familiar garden- and love-song-based tropes of metaphor and allegory both permitted Castilian devotees to avoid direct confrontation with themes that made them intensely uncomfortable and offered paths toward divine enlightenment and rapture that rivaled those of the Muslims on every count, including that of poetic eloquence.
Like most of the texts analyzed in the chapters 1 and 2, none of those discussed in chapter 3 was ever illustrated or transmitted together with images. Nonetheless, as I argue, they are fundamental to an understanding of the ways in which the Castilian devotees steeped in them would have approached images, both sculpted and painted, of the Virgin, as well as the expectations they would have held concerning the results of such an encounter. I consider, therefore, a series of images, most dating to the middle decades of the fifteenth century, that have previously been analyzed by other scholars, in some cases numerous times, but never through the lenses offered by the texts considered here. These include a unique retablo known as the Retablo de los Ángeles (Altarpiece of the Angels), generally attributed to Jorge Inglés, which was produced under the patronage of the Marqués de Santillana for a hospital he had endowed at Buitrago; two panels of the Retablo of Miraflores; a “Mudéjar”-style stucco panel from the palace of the Velasco at Medina de Pomar; and a Virgen de la Leche, or Nursing Virgin, by Pedro Berruguete.
Chapter 4 addresses the suffering Virgin (or the virgo patiens, as I have termed her in the chapter title) in her role in the Passion. I argue that in Castile the Virgin offers to her devotees, not an alternative path toward the experience of Christ’s Passion, but the only path toward such an experience, given that somatic identification with the human Christ is largely precluded by concentration on his divinity. This argument is primarily based on close readings of a number of unedited primary sources, including passages related to the Passion from texts examined in chapter 3 (Eiximenis’s VC, the Mariale, and Juan López de Salamanca’s so-called Life of the Virgin). Also considered are an excerpt from the Castilian translation of the Stimulus amoris in which the Virgin’s experience of the Passion is related, as well as similar meditations from liturgical texts authored by Doña Constanza de Castilla, princess of the house of Trastámara and abbess of the royally sponsored Dominican convent in Madrid during the middle decades of the fifteenth century. Together, this group of texts proposes a Passion whose horrors are, at most, alluded to in fragmentary terms that are never allowed to coalesce into concrete images; rather, they are couched in metaphor culled from the most lyrical and poetic books of the Old Testament. The Virgin’s own Passion, on the other hand, is an interior one, located exclusively in her heart, which is completely transformed, as both the Stimulus amoris and Doña Constanza state, into the wounds that afflict her son’s body. Eiximenis, the anonymous compilers of the Mariale, and Juan López de Salamanca, moreover, assure devotees that the Virgin’s experience of the Passion was ultimately ecstatic, one in which her pain was transformed into ineffable joy as the secrets of the universe were revealed to her by divine decree. As in chapters 2 and 3, none of these texts is ever disseminated together with images, and it appears likely that the path of devotion they propose is, ideally, an imageless one. Nonetheless, at least one pair of panels produced in Castile during the early decades of the fifteenth century might arguably relate directly to the sorts of concerns that drive this group of texts. The Cuéllar diptych, I argue, in fact represents the Virgin’s ecstasy beside the cross. Its status as a devotional image, however, despite its small size and known provenance, is hardly evident.
Indeed, the only image that arguably fits the accepted definition for that term and that attained wide distribution in Castile at a relatively early date was the Pietà. Much of the remainder of chapter 4 is divided into sections that treat individual Pietàs either produced in or imported into Castile. These images range in date from ca. 1415 to after 1485; they include a panel from the Retablo of Don Sancho de Rojas; a small granite sculpture of the Pietà, perhaps imported from Bavaria, to which Don Sancho is known to have professed particular devotion; the central Lamentation panel from the Retablo of Miraflores; and a large sculpture that originally occupied the niche at the center of the façade of the Hieronymite convent of El Parral, just outside Segovia. The texts with which the images are paired include a series of prayers to the Virgin centered on her Five Sorrows, as well as a set of devotions identified as the Horae Passionis Beatae Virginis Mariae (Hours of the Passion of the Blessed Virgin). Like the Pietà itself, both texts might arguably be “importations,” for they are demonstrably present in libraries and collections elsewhere in European Christendom, and there is no evidence that they originated in Iberia. Both, however, also offer evidence of significant rewriting and editing, clear signs, as I argue, that Castilians’ reception of them was dictated by the cultural and devotional particularities of the multiconfessional context in which they practiced their faith.
In Castile, the five prayers are in fact six, and the hours represent a rewriting of the Horae Compassionis Beatae Virginis Mariae found elsewhere in Europe. In the case of the hours, a devotee’s attention is directed—through processes of editing that include the changing of words, the rearranging of verses, the selection of responses, antiphons, and prayers, or even the election to leave out entire sections of the “canonical” text—away from the gruesome details of the Passion and toward the moment at which the Virgin embraces, for the last time, her son’s lifeless body, before their separation by the grave. The sixth prayer added to the core group of five was composed with the purpose of emphasizing this same moment, a moment that—as is so clearly demonstrated by the Castilian recension of the Hours of the Passion of the Virgin—may easily be excerpted from the narrative sequence of horrors that constituted the Passion for most European Christians, and distilled into the sweet agony of separation of lover from beloved. Of all the images examined in this study, those that form the focus of these sections are the most obviously related, in terms of both style and iconography, to tastes and practices elsewhere in Europe. When interpreted in light of the particular devotions most likely to have been practiced before them, however, striking differences become apparent.
Many of these differences, moreover—particularly the fact that Castilians conceived of the Virgin’s experience of the Passion as one that ultimately allowed her, through divine decree, to transcend physical pain in order to encounter mystical ecstasy and enlightenment—open both texts and images to the possibility of the sorts of contacts and dialogue with the Sufi mystical lexicon that form the focus of sections of chapters 2 and 3. Accordingly, my reading of the Pietà from El Parral expands to include the plant forms—particularly the pomegranates—that frame it, considered in light of a Sufi treatise that might well have been known by members of a Mudéjar audience. Though these interpretations must be couched as mere suggestions until Nasrid devotional and religious life is much better understood, they are thought provoking and, I feel, worthy of consideration.
The final decades of the fifteenth century also witness the introduction—at last—of narrative meditations of the sort that might be described as a “mysticism of the sacred event.” Yet again, however, this statement must be qualified by the consideration of a number of Castilian particularities: the vehicle is not the MVC but rather the text of a sermon widely known as the Quis dabit, probably composed in a Cistercian context sometime toward the end of the twelfth century. This is a text that relates the Passion exclusively from the Virgin’s point of view, with emphasis on the emotions of the mother rather than on the physical agonies of her son. Details are sparse throughout the Passion proper; only once Christ’s inert body has been placed onto the Virgin’s lap do they become plentiful. The Quis dabit, in turn, inspires the production of a number of sermons in Castilian, and the final section of this chapter examines one of these, preserved in San Lorenzo del Escorial in a compilation dating to the final decades of the fifteenth century and thus securely linked to a Hieronymite context. This text is paired with the sudden introduction of life-sized Passion sculptures into the cloister of the Hieronymite convent and site of Marian pilgrimage at Guadalupe, figures produced by Northern sculptor Egas Cueman during the early years of the reign of Queen Isabel. These four sculptures, while clearly intended to be experienced in narrative fashion, were just as clearly intended to be experienced exclusively from the Virgin’s point of view. They were also, as I argue, intended to be experienced both in the knowledge of the Virgin’s ecstasy beside her son’s Cross and in the context of the fountains and gardens that punctuate the “Mudéjar”-style cloister into which they were introduced. These contingencies, as proposed in the case of the Pietà from El Parral, open the door to possible dialogue with the Shādhilī tradition. Indeed, the text with which this chapter closes—the Officium Transfixionis Beatae Virginis Mariae (Office of the Transfixion of the Blessed Virgin), probably composed by a Castilian Franciscan sometime during the final years of the fifteenth century, with its exclusive focus on the moment the Virgin’s soul was transfixed by the gladius passionis, which is interpreted as being one of ecstatic enlightenment—suggests that this was the case, for a Castilian audience, with all Passion imagery.
The final chapter returns to the question whether the years surrounding 1480 represent the dawning of an “Age of the Devotional Image” for Castile. An initial consideration of the circle of patrons most closely connected to the court of Queen Isabel might suggest that this was the case, but the texts and images examined in this chapter reveal that for many, if not most, Castilian Christians direct encounters with the Passion were still to be avoided, despite what appear to have been concerted attempts from certain members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to convince them otherwise. Two of the manuscripts important for this chapter (BNE MSS 8744 and 6539), sorts of manuals for preachers, are florilegia, partly in Latin and partly in Castilian. The first was produced in the 1450s, while the second was compiled during the papacy of Sixtus IV, whose importance in the establishment of the Inquisition is well known. I argue that much of the new emphasis on the Passion in prayers and devotions is probably the result of a top-down attempt to make it part of Castilian devotional life. Indeed, BNE MS 6539, the later of the two manuals, contains numerous indications that its compilers were highly preoccupied with orthodoxy. It would also seem that the circulation of certain “new” images—Veronicas and crucifixes in particular—among the Castilian faithful was promulgated by this same part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy: BNE MS 6539 contains blank pages that, according to instructions written on them in tiny letters, were to contain an image from each of these categories. The images were intended to be associated with especially heavily indulgenced prayers; particularly in the case of the crucifix, text and image together appear to represent a concerted attempt to “sell” Passion devotions to the Castilian faithful.
Castilian patrons, however, were, at least in part, reluctant to buy. In a devotional miscellany that probably dates to the 1470s and proceeds from the Dominican convent at Plasencia (BNE MS 6326) is bound a series of Life of Christ meditations that are unquestionably—thanks to affirmations made in the text itself—to be interpreted as “homegrown.” These revert, once more, to the sorts of meditations that typified the first half of the century: emphasis on Christ’s divinity and a reluctance to engage the more sordid aspects of the Passion head-on. Here, however, these motifs are not deployed specifically to convert infidels but rather to meet the devotional needs of the author’s intended audience, as he conceives of them.
The final section of the chapter focuses on Castilian books of hours. Although these are believed to have been directly modeled on the Flemish examples assumed to have been widely available by the middle decades of the fifteenth century, most of the imported books of hours found today in the collection of the BNE in Madrid were in fact not brought to Spain until the eighteenth century. This circumstance is acknowledged in some recent publications, but it has not altered the widespread belief held by art historians that Spanish books of hours are, for all intents and purposes, Flemish. As I argue, however, though the style of the images that adorn some examples produced in Castile is undoubtedly “Northern,” the texts they accompany reveal that the attitudes argued in preceding chapters to have typified the Castilian devotional landscape throughout the late fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth were very much alive and well during that latter century’s final decades. The examples considered suggest that, even in the final years of the fifteenth century, Castilian patrons, when presented with the opportunity to order a book that would serve in their private devotions, avoided confrontation—particularly in visual terms—with the Passion . . . or they undertook such confrontation through the Virgin’s eyes.
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