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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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6. Sacred Places: The Cubas from Southern Portugal: (Luís Ferro)


Luís Ferro

The landscape of the south of Portugal is punctuated by hundreds of small square plane buildings covered by a hemispherical dome (Fig. 1). These buildings are commonly identified by the word cuba, which corresponds to a semantic evolution of the Arabic word qubbâ and the Latin word cupa, both meaning dome, with visible similarity to the Portuguese word cubo, which means cube. Therefore, the substantive cuba synthesizes the geometrical composition of this type of construction: a cubic base covered by a hemispherical dome.

Fig. 1. São Vicente seen from N.ª S.ª da Natividade, Ferreira do Alentejo, 2013.

On the contrary, interiorly, the cubic volume has four pendentives that perform the gradual and ascendant passage of the square plane of the base to the circular plan of the dome. This transition is constructive, spatial and symbolic. In ancient cosmogonic theories, the cube is associated with the earth, while the hemispherical shape is compared to the celestial welkin, the sky. Thus, the earth and the sky, the juxtaposition of the cube and the dome, symbolize the Cosmos283.

Nowadays, the vast majority of these buildings can be found integrated in bigger and more complex architectural assemblies, such as rural chapels and churches (functioning as an altar space, sacristy, nave, narthex of entry and/or baptistery) or, more rarely, in castles towers, watchtowers, rural houses, barns and storehouses.

The image of some small-domed buildings isolated in the landscape, although...

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