Spain Arts in the 9th-11th Century

By | January 3, 2022

Art of the Caliphate of Cordoba (IX – XI centuries). – Weakness of the Goth domination, indifference of the popular mass, effective help of the Jews: with the help of these three factors the Muslims easily imposed themselves. At first they did not abuse their triumph: in 718 they came to terms with the Christians: the latter returned to their churches (the cathedral of Cordoba is divided in half between the two confessions); judges and counts remain in their cities. But Islamization advances: the simple and advantageous Muslim organization gains new followers; conversion, very simple in form, redeems from slavery; the number of Mozarabs (submissive Christians) decreases while that of muwallad ū n increases (converted Christians).

According to HEALTH-BEAUTY-GUIDES, in 756 ‛Abd ar-Raḥmān, of the Umayyad family, saved from the massacre of his family and took refuge in Spain, he proclaimed himself an independent emir from the caliph of Baghdād. In the last years of his government, which went up to 788, he bought half of the ancient Visigothic cathedral from the Mozarabs and in 786 built the new mosque with eleven naves and a courtyard. The shortness of the time of its construction – one year – and the quantity of Visigothic elements that were preserved there, led us to think that much of what existed of the Christian church was used. The horseshoe arches are of the Visigothic type and the columns used were Roman and Gothic. To obtain greater lightness without danger to the stability of the building, the arches were superimposed on each other so that the lower ones served as support. In them the alternating stone and brick wedges produces a picturesque effect; but this too was not a novelty in Spanish art, because double arches and with such alternating wedges are also those of the Roman aqueduct known as the Miracles in Mérida. The mosque of Cordoba (v.) Served as a model for the following Arab art. At the time of Hishām I (788-796) the tower was built and under ‛Abd ar-Rahmān II (822-848) the building was enlarged without departing from the ancient rules, however some capitals were worked and the proportions of the horseshoe-shaped Arab arch extending the curve up to half of the radius. In 912 he inherited the emirate ‛Abd ar-Rahmān III which from January 929 was called caliph. Three years later his power found no worthy rival in Spain, and apart from this he had no other competitor than the emperor of Byzantium. In 936, construction began on the marvelous city of Medina az-Zahra (Medīnat az-Zahr’ā), contiguous to Cordova, which excavations are bringing to light. In 961 al-Hakam II ordered the extension of the mosque. What was done then is easily recognizable, because the columns are no longer used, the Corinthian capitals alternate with those composed of the caliphal type and the lobed arch is put in place, which in the East was only decorative. To give light to the building which had already become immense, the crossing of the arches was invented, which leaves a sort of starry dome, an artifice no less beautiful than fruitful, because it was based on the same principle that the ribbed vaults should have been based on. mi ḥ rab, covered by a shell-shaped vault, with mosaics, marbles, etc. Almanzor (al Mansūr) had the mosque enlarged again without introducing any other innovation other than the use of the horseshoe arch with the tip.

After Almanzor’s death (1002) Cordoba decays, and art sprouts again in other centers, Málaga, Toledo, Zaragoza, etc.

Mozarabic art (10th – 11th centuries). – It is one of the most interesting Spanish artistic events. In a few decades a style of ingenious solutions and of great beauty was consolidated; but it ended while it was in full bloom; perhaps it did not have deep roots because it was a chosen art, an art for minorities.

When the Spanish Middle Ages portrayed itself as a relentless struggle between Islamism and Christianity, one could not understand an art, such as Mozarabic, which boasts close relations between the two civilizations, not excluding coexistence. It flourishes best in Christian lands: out of these there are only two examples left, Barbastro and Melque. It reaches its greatest splendor in the Leonese region with penetration into Galicia, Asturias, Santander, Castile, Aragon and Catalonia. The arrival of the Cordovan Mozarabs to the monasteries and monasteries located north of the Duero river explains the difference in the Caliphal artistic elements, which had to join Asturian and Visigothic traditions.

The arch used is the horseshoe arch of the Cordovan type; the buildings are covered with vaults, sometimes with ribs, according to the system of crossed arches that can be seen in the mosque in Cordoba; the eaves on modillions, also of the caliphal type, are those that were to be introduced later in the Romanesque style; the capitals are Corinthian of Byzantine manufacture; at the windows, stone barriers. The human figure is missing from the fine and delicate decoration; the dimensions are small, the slenderness is elegant. “The composition of the buildings shuns basilic simplicity and bright environments, and seeks something mysterious, complicated sculptures, short perspectives, in which height predominates and which arouse unexpected novelty at every step”, sums up Gómez Moreno.

The most notable Mozarabic churches among those preserved are: Melque (Toledo), prior to 930; Spain Michele di Escalada (León), consecrated in 913, perhaps a masterpiece of this style and the most richly decorated; Spain Michele di Celanova (Orense), built around 940, very small, which is the most delicate Mozarabic building; Spain Maria of Lebeña (Santander), and San Baudel of Casillas de Berlanga (Soria), already from the beginning of the century. XI.

There was not really a monumental Mozarabic sculpture, but ivory carving flourished, sometimes masterful, because it followed the Cordovan school; we mention, for example, the cross of the Louvre, the other of San Millán de la Cogolla (now in the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid), the tablet with an angel in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, etc.

The series of Mozarabic codes is splendid. We remember the Biblia Hispalensis, written in the middle of the century. X, with beautiful stylizations of birds and fish and vigorous figures of prophets; the series of codes of the Commentaries on the Apocalypse by Beato de Liévana, so transcendent for iconography; the Alceldense Code (976), the Emilian Code 1993), etc.

Spain Arts in the 9th-11th Century