Patton, Pamela. Art of Estrangement: Redefining Jews in Reconquest Spain

By Ruggles, D. Fairchild | The Review of Metaphysics, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Patton, Pamela. Art of Estrangement: Redefining Jews in Reconquest Spain


Ruggles, D. Fairchild, The Review of Metaphysics


PATTON, Pamela. Art of Estrangement: Redefining Jews in Reconquest Spain. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. xi + 206pp. Cloth, $79.95--The scholarship on medieval Iberia is complicated by the fact that three groups flourished there, writing in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, practicing Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and characterized by different cultural habits such as distinctive garments, legal codes, and artistic production. The field is further complicated by the fact that the people of medieval Iberia could and did shift categories when it was advantageous to do so, so that subgroups of converts existed who might retain the cultural inflections of one group while embracing the religion of another. While many studies focus on the art and literary production of one of the three groups, few tackle the much more complex question of how the people of one of the three groups received and represented the people of another. Therefore, Pamela Patton's engaging Arts of Estrangement is a welcome and much needed contribution to an area of Iberian studies that merits far more study than it has received.

The book begins with a close reading of a miniature from the Libro de ajedrez (Book of Chess), made for Alfonso X of Castile in 1283, which is compared to a late fourteenth-century Castilian manuscript. In the first, a Jew and a Christian play an amicable game of chess, each identified clearly by garments and stock facial features, yet without the negative nuances often attached to such representations. In the second, a page of framed scenes shows a Jew whose eyes and ears are blocked by demons so he cannot read or hear the text (presumably sacred) that he holds. Patton explains how such images belong to a discursive framework that is both explicit and--especially important for visual culture--implicit and thus supplied in excess of the textual: the discursive framework of the first image was the culturally flexible context of the court where Jews were present, while the second belonged to the realm of religious polemic which excoriated them. With this astute and persuasive reading of the two sets of images, the book leaps into a fascinating discussion of visual rhetoric. It is a great beginning to a wonderfully interesting book. Throughout, the arguments rely on close readings of small-scale manuscript paintings, and fortunately the Penn State Press secured a Millard Meiss Publication subvention from the College Art Association to make beautiful color reproductions. …

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