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'Otherness’ in Space and Architecture

Jews, Muslims and Christians in Western European Art (1200-1650)

Maria Portmann

This conference proceeding (Sessions on "Otherness in Space and Architecture", International Medieval Conference, Leeds, 2017 and 2018) is a compilation of articles written by both young and senior scholars, who are working on the question of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ in Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures. The articles examine how material, ‘oriental’ objects and knowledge originating in non-Western communities helped building and strengthening the identity of Iberia’s, southern France and northern Italian nobility and its lineages. It is shown how, in the perception of Christians, the public image of Jews and Moslems became constructed as that of adversaries, while their cultural knowledge, at the same time, would be integrated into Christian culture in a paradox manner, in which the ‘self’ necessarily depends on the ‘other’ and how visual tensions in art and space have been used as symbols of power.

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1. Introduction: (Maria Portmann)


Maria Portmann

These conference proceedings have been written by both young and senior scholars, who are working on the question of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’; they reevaluate the social and political roles of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions in Art and Architecture in Italy, France and Spain during the Middle Ages and the early modern period.1

The meaning of ‘otherness’ much depends on its use and the objects of study. Jacques Lacan once pointed out that the psychological process of constructing one’s ‘self’ is always closely related to the signification of the localized place from where ‘otherness’ in terms of emotional and physical emptiness is.2

A similar spatial ontology of ‘self’ has been used by Michel Foucault, who understood it as a localized area set apart from the enveloping environmental system by the different types of relations it maintains in respect to its temporal, social, political or ritual functions:

[…] the heterotopias include a system of opening and closing that separate them from their environmental. […] A heterotopia is an open space, but with the property of keeping you outside.3

Foucault thus defines ‘heterotopias’ as types of localities where deviations from given norms become possible and that can be created but also erased ←13 | 14→by society. These are spaces that can be related to the lives of foreigners enclosed by walls and pushed to the margins of centres that are thought of as the reserved locations of ‘self’. The...

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