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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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7. Allies of the Order: Guilt-Projecting Witticism and Moral Discredit through Fantastic Non-Human Appearances Referring to Religious Others: (Maria Vittoria Spissu)


Maria Vittoria Spissu

Anthropomorphic animals or beasts, in illuminated scenes and as sculpted iconographic devices, not only reflect social imagery and collective emotional302 context in the Middle Ages and the early modern period, but also can incorporate learnings and applications that endure today through sedimented and combined patterns.

Migratory figurative motifs intended to stigmatize religious Others – as well as social outcasts303 and people from just-discovered and faraway geographic worlds – stem from ideas and visual culture concerning supposed faults and flaws blamed on Jews and Muslims. Quite apart from the strictly religious controversies, caricatures or grotesque features can also hide or even incite the fear of moral subversion,304 while attempting to exorcise social disorder. What is important to note is that there are also recognizable points of contact between the satirical and discrediting function of animal presences or wild behaviour in illuminated books, on the one hand, and the alienating and derisory effect introduced into religious architecture by the transfiguration of the ‘infidel’, on the other.

The placement of fantastic or non-human figures in marginal or liminal spaces points to the fact that the role of those to whom those figures allude must be scaled down and humbled. They belong to the ‘world upside down’ and are relegated for the most part to the edges of medieval buildings, church furniture, and pages of illuminated prayer books. Their subordinate presence in the social context is represented by their emergence in capitals or at the margins...

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