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Art and Identities in Medieval Spain


This course investigates the material cultures of medieval Spain, with a strong emphasis on architecture.

It provides a survey of sites, objects, methodologies and issues for those working on this little studied area from c.711 to 1391, concentrating on the relationship between the peninsula's most important confessional groups: Jews, Christians and Muslims.

At the heart of this course is the question of identities, both geographical and confessional, and how they were articulated in the buildings and objects of medieval Spain.


This module will provide an introduction to the history of medieval Iberian architecture, and a general grounding in many of the issues currently faced by scholars working on medieval Spain and its diverse communities.



  • MacKay, A., Spain in the Middle Ages. From Frontier to Empire, London, 1977.
  • V. Mann, T. Glick and J. Dodds (eds.), Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, New York, 1992.
  • Dodds, J., M.-R. Menocal and A. Krasner, The Arts of Intimacy. Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture, Yale, 2008. A valuable and inter-disciplinary account of medieval Castile, if somewhat optimistic


  • Ettinghausen, R., O. Grabar and M. Jenkins, Islamic art and architecture 650-1250, New Haven, Conn.; London, 2001, pp. 3-29, 83-101, 266-302
  • The Art of medieval Spain, A.D. 500-1200, New York, 1993
  • J. D. Dodds (ed.) Al-Andalus, the Art of Islamic Spain, New York; Madrid, 1992.


We begin by considering the legacy of caliphal al-Andalus, including the Islamic palaces at Medinat al-Zahara and Zaragoza, and especially the Great Mosque in Córdoba.

We then examine the alternative architectural and decorative idioms that entered the peninsula from across the Pyrenees.

With these 'poles of influence' established, we next consider how these artistic traditions were combined in the material culture of the peninsula, and how they might articulate confessional and social identities. We first focus on Spain's other important community, the Jews: their synagogues and illuminated manuscripts, and their responses to Islamic and Christian traditions.

We return to the architecture of the Islamic polities that had survived in the peninsula after the conquest of Seville in 1248, and will analyse the notion of a common courtly taste, focusing on the royal palaces in Seville and Granada.

We conclude by studying the special role of textiles in these exchanges, and critically evaluate the existence of mudéjar (the term commonly given to buildings supposedly built by Muslim craftsmen for Christian patrons). Central to this research is the notion of convivencia (the co-existence of different religious communities), and the discourses surrounding it.

Detail from an image of a Jewish cantor reading the Passover story in al-Andalus, from a 14th century Spanish Haggadah

Module information

  • Module title
    Art and Identities in Medieval Spain
  • Module number
  • Convenor
    Tom Nickson

For postgraduates