Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Fernando De Acuña, María Dávila and the Minimalist Art of the invención

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Fernando De Acuña, María Dávila and the Minimalist Art of the invención

Article excerpt

I propose to examine a jousting invención by Fernando de Acuña that is a masterpiece of this minimalist genre. It occurs in the Cancionero general (ID 6372, 11CG-540; Macpherson 1998a: no. 60):2

Don Hernando d'Acuña a una llave que ponen por acabamiento de la obra:

Antes el fin qu'el comienço.

There are at least six important points to remember when interpreting fifteenthcentury Spanish and Portuguese invenciones. First of all, each tournament generally has a theme that reflects the mood and concerns of a particular moment in time. Secondly, the visual component of these compositions has not been preserved in contemporary woodcuts or drawings, or in any other form of illustration, which means that one is bound to rely on the rubrics that are found in Cancionero general (1511), the Portuguese Cancioneiro geral (1516), and the manuscript known as the British Library Cancionero (LB1), and since these were almost certainly added by a later hand - by the compiler or editor - they can sometimes be misleading. Thirdly, an invención is a mixed medium of visual and verbal elements, in which the divisa, or image, which is often displayed on the jouster's helm, and the letra, an inscription displayed somewhere on the jouster's person or on the trappings of his horse, normally in one, two, or three octosyllabic lines, occasionally with a half-line, are interdependent, and the pleasure for the reader or onlooker is to discover the link between the two. This means that the best examples of this genre can only be properly understood when they are read, heard and seen: 'The object [...] was to express an idea, or an emotion, as concisely and economically as possible, ideally by drawing attention to a hitherto unsuspected relationship between image and word' (Macpherson 1998b: 104). Fourthly, the interpretation of invenciones is above all a verbal game, and therefore one often has to consider the image not merely as a symbol but also as the visual representation of a written word that can often be split into parts. For example, to understand the Count of Tendilla's half-sign of Solomon (ID 0987, 11CG-519), it is a mistake to concentrate on the significance of the Star of David: one has to look at the letters SINO (the contemporary spelling of signo), a word that can be split into a si and a no: the count's rival in love is accepted by the lady, and the count is left with el fin, that is to say the end of the word sino because the lady has answered his proposal of love in the negative. Fifthly, one should expect an invención to possess several layers of meaning, both erotic and spiritual.

Finally, it has to be recognized that invenciones are usually addressed to a particular lady, and frequently they contain a key to her identity, although it is an exaggeration to say, as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo does on several occasions, that in the majority of jousting devices the letra begins with the first letter of a lady's name (Fernández de Oviedo 1983-2002, II: 97, 244-45). For this reason, a knowledge of a jouster's personal circumstances - so far as this is possible - is no less important than an acquaintance with the 'repertoire of images and conceits familiar to the whole of Western European courtly culture' (Kennedy 2006: 144), including medieval bestiary lore. It is therefore advisable to begin by studying what is known about the jouster's life.

Fernando de Acuña (c. 1456-1495) was extremely well connected because his uncle was Alonso Carrillo (1410-1482), Archbishop of Toledo, and his elder brother, Lope Vázquez de Acuña, II Count of Dueñas, who died on 1 January 1489, had married Inés Enriquez, King Fernando's aunt. He was the second son of Pedro Vázquez de Acuña, I Count of Buendía, and Inés de Herrera, daughter of Pedro García de Herrera, Lord of Ampudia, and María de Ayala Sarmiento. His father, a keen jouster, retained his position as Chief Guard of the royal court during the course of three reigns - Juan II of Castile, Enrique IV of Castile, and the Catholic Monarchs. …

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