Alfonso, the Learned of Castille. A Renaissance man in the Middle Ages, he marshaled the talents of Christians, Jews, and Moslems in an outpouring of scholarship and art…
Whether the Moorish tradition influenced the music of the cantigas is a question still debated among scholars, for the subsequent burning of the books in Granada destroyed most of the evidence on which a valid comparison might have been based. Most of the melodies seem to have northern antecedents, at any rate; they sound very close to Catalan and Galician folksongs and dances, with the occasional intrusion of a song from Provence or a Gregorian chant. But the strophic form of Alfonso’s poetry is demonstrably borrowed from the Arabic verse form known as the “zejel,” which also begins with a short refrain that recurs after every stanza of the poem.
The “zejel” had been a great favorite of the Moorish poets of Andalusia, yet it was not really an Arabic invention but rather a Moorish adaptation of a form of folk poetry indigenous to Spain. Indeed, its strophic form can be traced back to the pagan fertility dances of ancient Iberia, in which the men and women lined up facing one another in two concentric circles, shouting couplets to each other as they danced. Vestiges of such May dances and harvest ceremonies still exist today as Christian folk dances: in some remote, mountainous parts of the country, until recently, the peasants persisted in dancing them every year before certain shrines of the Virgin.
The basic verse pattern of Alfonso’s cantigas, in other words, had been handed down from Pagan to Visigoth to Moor to Christian, and corresponded to one of the fundamental life affirming rhythms of the Spanish dance. And the form was not unrelated to the subject matter: that too has a great deal to do with fertility, and women who want to conceive, and lovemaking and childbirth, and the miraculous saving of children and crops and farm animals. Seen in this light, the cantigas are a fascinating reflection, not only of their times, but of the whole medieval metamorphosis of the Madonna- the gradual identification of the ancient but still powerful Earth-Mother of the Mediterranean with the Christian image of the Virgin Mary.
(see link at end)…By 1280, when Alfonso X, King of Castile, had the Cantigas de Santa Maria commissioned, reconquest efforts on the Iberian Peninsula had all but demolished Muslim land holdings leaving only the southern city of Granada and the immediately surrounding territories. The presence of Muslims in Spain since 711 had led to rich cultural interactions and a practice of mutual artistic sharing. This legacy is as apparent in Alfonso’s Cantigas as in the Alcazar in Seville or at Las Huelgas in Burgos, and shows an awareness and appreciation for Islamic traditions. In the Cantigas de Santa Maria there are two specific relationships to Islamic sources: the first being plant and animal imagery, and the second being the distinguishing of Arab and non-Arab Muslim figures. These two connections may not indicate explicit influential relationships between Alfonso’s court and specific manuscripts, but it does highlight and is highlighted by the proximity of Alfonso’s court to Islamic traditions and a keen awareness of Islamic manuscript production as well as the insertion of Alfonso’s personal tastes into his patronage. This paper will examine the possible Islamic manuscript inspirations by first situating the Cantigas as a body of manuscripts, second by demonstrating the differences the manuscripts present from a French model used to show an European norm, and then by examining the Islamic manuscript traditions in the Mediterranean prior to and contemporaneous to the production of the Cantigas.
The Cantigas de Santa Maria is one of the most notable literary productions of the court of Alfonso X. The Cantigas consist of more than four hundred poems set to music extolling the virtues of the Virgin Mary, and many of the poems derive from events of Alfonso’s reign. While the poems were written in 1280, before the illustrations, which were completed on or around 1284, the illustrations have drawn scholars into a world of crosscultural references and literary parallels. Read More:http://art.unt.edu/medieval-symposium/presenter.php?year=2009&ident=11