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Dr Rose Walker
Independent researcher
Emeritus Fellowship

Reimagining the art of twelfth-century Iberia

León, San Isidoro, South facade, Portal of the Lamb. Reset sculpture in the tympanum. The placing of the victorious sacrificial Lamb over the narrative frieze of the Sacrifice of Abraham creates an image of reconquest. (Photograph: JohnBattenPhotography).

The overarching aim of my research is to challenge views of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages encapsulated in maps. This has two main aspects: the pilgrimage roads and the advancing 'reconquest'. The usual depiction of the pilgrimage roads implies the movement of people and ideas in only one direction – even today the route is signposted to, and not from, Santiago de Compostela. Likewise, the lines drawn to demarcate conquered territory do not adequately express the exchange of knowledge and goods between the Christians, Jews and Muslims who continued to share the peninsula. 

I have opted for a cross-disciplinary approach that will consider texts, art, architecture and archaeology. The mid-twelfth-century Codex Calixtinus includes two highly relevant texts: The Pilgrim's Guide and the Pseudo-Turpin. The first is the main evidence for the pilgrimage routes, although I maintain that it is a gentle satire and should not always be taken literally. The second contains the fictional exploits of the Emperor Charlemagne presented as proto-Crusades. To these I shall add an analysis of the saints' cults and liturgical practices found in contemporary Iberian manuscripts. 

My research will consider the routes and networks suggested by the manuscripts alongside evidence for the movement of craftsmen and for the chronology of buildings. Although the field has often been drawn to the beginnings of Romanesque sculpture c. 1100 and to its culmination c. 1200, I shall focus on the middle of the century, on the reuse of sculpture and on the development of archaic or mannerist styles. These artistic practices were paralleled by the emergence of cults devoted to churchmen who had brought reform to Spain and Portugal only a few decades before. 

There is little doubt that Christian attitudes towards Islamic art changed during this period, partly as a result of crusading ideology. Meanwhile the Berber Almoravids and Almohads who successively occupied the peninsula focused more on their North African territories. My reassessment of the narrative of 'reconquest' will draw on the results of other current research projects: on the production and movement of textiles, and on the exchange of scientific and technical knowledge, not least through the translation programme in Toledo. 
Despite a change in rhetoric, trade continued to develop, alongside diplomatic and military opportunities for the acquisition of goods and expertise.

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