Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Beyond Borders welcomes Deanna Proach

Deanna Proach graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Northern British Columbia in 2008. Since then she has written a historical fiction set in revolutionary France, titled Day of Revenge 

Day of Revenge was self-published through Inkwater Press, but Proach plans to do many revisions on this project as well as write another historical in the coming years. Her love for History is manifested in the form of a

We look forward to hosting Deanna's post on the Battle of Dorylaeum on Monday August 5th!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Images of games, images of harmony?

In the study of medieval Spain the term of the convivencia is well known. However, the harmonious image that has often been associated with it has been frequently challenged. The illusion of a peaceful and tolerant coexistence has been dispelled by studies that uncovered episodes of intolerance and violence. One document that has sometimes been used to illustrate the harmony between Muslims, Jews and Christians is the libro de los juegos or libro del ajedrez, dados y tablas. This manuscript, created in Seville in 1283, primarily contains texts on chess, but also on dice and tables. Its illuminations show a wide array of figures, Kings and peasant, men and women, but also representations of Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is not hard to fathom why such imagery of figures of different religions being involved in games of intellect and chance could be used to illustrate their harmonious lives along side each other. Yet, a closer look reveals that this manuscript by no means lacks political and ideological meaning. 

Figure 1

On fol. 22r the viewer can witness a chess game between two Muslims. The two men playing, are depicted as barefoot, with elegant clothing and turbans, apparently Muslims of higher prestige. While they are engaged in the game, they are surrounded by three women, who serve the players food and drinks, and entertain them with harp music. However subtle, some aspects in the image seem to disagree with a tolerant scene of a leisurely court scene.

One of the women appears to cast her gaze upon the player of the right, whose eye do not seem to rest on the game, but rather on her body, whose shape is slightly revealed by her light garment.[1] Though we might just consider this an amusing detail, it can also be understood less humourous. The implied notions of seduction and sexuality depicts the Muslim woman in a negative light for the contemporary audience and thereby puts her characterisation in a longer tradition of the non-Christian Other as lustful.

Figure 2

The male participant of this little flirtation seems to be the object of further ridicule. He is shown as being distracted by his physical desires, thereby questioning his intellectual capacities as well as his abilities in warfare seeing as the former was understood as a metaphor for the later. Finally the position of the image within the manuscript itself seems to be of significance. It is located right opposite of a Western court scene. A position that suggests a comparison between the two courtly scenes. Even though the Muslims appear richly dressed, they pale in comparison to the splendour of their Western equivalent, making these pairs of images a highly ideological argument for the superiority of Christian culture. [2]

An image of a game of dice between a Jew and a Christian shows similar visual policies. It has to be noted, that the manuscript only shows Jews winning a game of dice, but never of chess. This fact alone might be understood as slightly debasing, considering the manuscript tells its audience that chess is the superior game. [3]

The scene on fol. 71V shows such a game of dice between a Christian and a Jew, both players accompanied by an entourage of three. The scene shows the Christian player, who just lost, stretching out his hand with an insulting gesture towards his victorious opponent, while the winner seems to point out his victory with his left hand.

Figure 3
Remarkable in this scene is how each group is characterised.[4] The Christian attendants seem to parallel the forward leaning body movement of the Christian player, suggesting their support and visually emphasising the unity of their group. The companions of the Jewish player, however, seem less involved. One is hardly visible or involved, two of them seem to secretly whisper to each other, appearing to discuss the outcome of the game. This opposition of formal, unified Christians and chaotic Jewish bodies also appears at other places in the manuscript, suggesting that these compositions are signifying qualities of the represented groups.

Even though there are more examples are possible, these two should have given a glimpse of the visual strategies used in the imagery. It does depict Christians along side Jews and Muslims, playing games, communicating a co-existence. However, it is by no means a token of tolerance and acceptance. The superiority of Christians is interwoven into the imagery throughout the manuscript. Thereby frequently affirming its Christian audience of their place in the world of these chaotic times. It seems that the notion of convivencia is not so much an illustrated medieval reality, but rather a concept born from the desires of the modern world with regards to its own past.

1 Constable, Olivia Remie, 'Chess and Courtly Culture in Medieval Castile: The Libro de ajedrez of Alfonso X, el Sabio', in: Speculum 82.2 (2007), 331-332.
2 Robinson, Cynthia, 'Preliminary considerations on the illustrations of Qissat Bayād wa Riyād [Vat. Ar. Ris. 368]: checkmate with Alfonso X?', in Al-Andalus und Europa: zwischen Orient und Okzident, ed. Martina Meller-Wiener (Petersberg: Imhof, 2004), 290.
3 Adams, Jenny, Power play: the literature and politics of chess in the Late Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 55-56.
4 See Robinson 2004, 290 for further observations on the visual distinction between the two groups.

1 fol. 22r, Libro del ajedrez, dados y tablas, Manuscript T.I.6. Biblioteca Real del Monasterio de El Escorial. 
2 view on fol. 21v and 22r, Libro del ajedrez, dados y tablas, Manuscript T.I.6. Biblioteca Real del Monasterio de El Escorial.
3 fol. 71v, Libro del ajedrez, dados y tablas, Manuscript T.I.6. Biblioteca Real del Monasterio de El Escorial.

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Monday, 22 July 2013

A Year in Review

It has been one year since we uploaded our first post, and since then many things have happened in each of our lives. Through our individual adventures the blog has been our constant companion. It has not always been easy, but somehow we managed to keep it going. To celebrate this anniversary we've decided it's time for a good old-fashioned self-reflection-post!

When we began this adventure we were each drowning in our own research, writing, editing and about to embark upon our MSc dissertations at the University of Edinburgh, but somehow along the way, we came together to form this blog. Indeed, the somewhat chaotic nature of academia acted as the impetus for the original framework of the blog, which mainly consisted of posting truncated papers and imagery. This, in translation, involved putting as much content as possible into a vaguely limited amount of words followed by the accompaniment of a small armada of footnotes and pretty pictures.  Reflectively speaking, we were doing what we knew best: writing papers. But as time progressed, we were confronted with the reality of busy and very different schedules, the nuances of our private lives and a blog that was quite arduous in nature. It soon became clear that our simple idea of posting material according to a rotational schedule (AKA the 'post-n-run' tactic) was not as feasible as we once thought it should, or even could be. We realised that in order for Beyond Borders to succeed as a blog, the four of us needed to become more of a team. What began as collaboration amongst fellow students  became a partnership of academic minds and more importantly, friends. We divided tasks that were not only associated with the facilitation of a successful blog, but also focused on our individual talents. This forced us to not only be more self-reflective about the blog itself, but also about the process associated with the transmission of information, blog or otherwise.

We considered that maybe, possibly, or perhaps not everyone was excited to read what amounted to short essays, which lead us to write smaller posts, blog more about our own ideas and opinions and opt to share what we deem to be more ‘experimental' concepts in relation to current medieval scholarship. After all, we did not want the blog to become a small journal written by four colleagues, but instead we wanted a place for exchange and creative thinking. Granted, we're still hard wired to produce works with copious footnotes and word limits that break all the rules of blogging. So it's fair to say that this coming year will see posts which will attempt to make room for both types of writing, short and long, thereby allowing for different types of readers.

But as everyone within our readership knows, we have not been the only ones posting on our blog. Part of our initial conceptualisation of Beyond Borders was to include and work towards contributions by guest bloggers. For us, a guest blogger expands the discourse we aim to spark while also allowing people who want to share their ideas a forum in which some comments and/or recognition may be received. After some amazing posts by people we had the privilege of meeting earlier in our academic careers, we started advertising the option. We wrote to art history institutes, grad schools, newsletters, tweeting, Facebooking and suddenly the project 'guest blogger' had become a PR-job on its own right (one in which our Emily Tuttle blossomed to a PR-mastermind). And the work paid off. By now we have had numerous guest posts from an international community, and we are thankful and feel honoured that so many have shown an interest in writing something for the blog. If you are getting interested yourself, why not drop us a line with your idea for a guest post ;)

So, what now? Well, we will continue doing what we are doing at the moment. We will develop the blog, change a bit here and there, and eventually Beyond Borders will transition into other projects, but we will see where the future takes us. Most importantly, we aim to still be here next year having expanded our readership and the interests our readers may have about the medieval world. We're already looking forward to our second anniversary post and we hope you are as well.

The Beyond Borders Team

Fabian, Samuel, Shandra and Emily

Monday, 15 July 2013

Monstrosity within the Church in Hildegard of Bingen’s Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript

The allegorical figure of Ecclesia, the virgin Holy Mother Church, was one of Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) most frequent visionary images. She appears no less than five times in her first visionary work, Scivias, for which Hildegard later supervised the creation of a deluxe illuminated manuscript, the Rupertsberg Codex. Though the original has been lost since its evacuation to Dresden in 1945, it survives in black-and-white photographs and a hand-executed facsimile crafted by the nuns at the Abbey of St. Hildegard in the 1920’s, from which the images that accompany today’s post come.[1] The visual images of Ecclesia in this manuscript are vast, powerful, and often extraordinarily hybridized, with a variety of non-human elements grafted on, each with its own allegorical significance. Sometimes, as in the image for Scivias II.5 (Fig. 1), of the virginal orders of her mystical body, the monumental quality of flaming gold wings rising from Ecclesia’s shoulders and of the silver mountains comprising her lower body inspires awesome wonder.

Figure 1
There is another image of Ecclesia, however, that is gruesome and disturbing—her rape by the Antichrist in Scivias III.11 (Fig. 2). Hildegard describes her (e)sc(h)atological vision of the last days:

And I saw again the figure of a woman whom I had previously seen in front of the altar that stands before the eyes of God; she stood in the same place, but now I saw her from the waist down. And from her waist to the place that denotes the female, she had various scaly blemishes; and in that latter place was a black and monstrous head. It had fiery eyes, and ears like an ass’, and nostrils and mouth like a lion’s; it opened wide its jowls and terribly clashed its horrible iron-colored teeth. (…) And behold! That monstrous head moved from its place with such a great shock that the figure of the woman was shaken through all her limbs. And a great mass of excrement adhered to the head; and it raised itself up upon a mountain and tried to ascend the height of Heaven. And behold, there came suddenly a thunderbolt, which struck that head with such great force that it fell from the mountain and yielded up its spirit in death. And a reeking cloud enveloped the whole mountain, which wrapped the head in such filth that the people who stood by were thrown into the greatest terror.[2]

Figure 2

Appearing in the lower register of the image, Ecclesia’s upper body is the golden orans figure familiar from earlier in the manuscript. Her lower body, however, has been replaced with a brutal assortment of bruising reds and scaly browns, capped with the monstrous and grotesque head of the Antichrist leering out from her genitals, his phallic ear erect for penetration. Such grotesque hybrids become common in the marginal art of gothic manuscripts, where the gryllus, for example, in the lower margin of Psalm 101 in the Ormesby Psalter (Fig. 3) might seem to echo the genital mask in Hildegard’s image. Indeed, the little prayer-book of Marguerite that Michael Camille examined in his seminal Image on the Edge offers a telling comparison: a woman’s book whose pages “are pregnant in the sense that they teem with gynaecological promise even within the detritus of fallen, decomposing life.”[3] There is, however, a crucial difference between Marguerite’s prayer-book and Hildegard’s Scivias: far from being on the margins, Hildegard’s Antichrist is found at the very center of the Church, inside her, taking over her womb and thus corrupting her mission: “I must conceive and give birth!” (as she announces in Hildegard’s vision of the Church and Baptism in Scivias II.3).

Figure 3

Hildegard describes this violent hybridized rape as the consequence of “fornication and murder and rapine” committed by Ecclesia’s own ministers, their “vile lust and shameful blasphemy (…) infused” in them by the Antichrist’s “voracious and gaping jaws” (Scivias III.11.12-13). Madeline Caviness has suggested that Hildegard’s radical alteration of “existing iconographic codes” in this image was so threatening as to render it obsolete from successive periods of medieval art, yet provocatively resonant “with numerous self-images of contemporary feminist artists, who fragment and mask their bodies to repel the male gaze.”[4] Richard Emerson, likewise, finds the visual image to be far more radical and disturbing than the mostly conventional account of the Antichrist offered in the vision’s commentary (Scivias III.11.25-40), whose innovations can be understood as the product of the conventionally symbolic exegetical imagination of twelfth-century monastics.[5] One of Hildegard’s extraordinary contributions to the Antichrist tradition is to portray the fiend as a sexual subversive and criminal—and to move that subversion from the margins into the very heart and womb of Mother Church herself.

-Contributed by Nathaniel Campbell

[1] I have elsewhere argued in favor of Hildegard’s hand in the design of the manuscript’s images, based on their theological content: Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript.
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990).
[3] Michael Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 54.
[4] Madeline Caviness, “Artist: ‘To See, Hear, and Know All at Once’,” in Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World, ed. Barbara Newman (University of California Press, 1998), pp. 110-124, at 117-8.
[5] Richard K. Emmerson, “The Representation of Antichrist in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias: Image, Word, Commentary, and Visionary Experience,” Gesta 41:2 (2002), pp. 95-110.

Fig. 1: Scivias II.5: The Orders of the Church (Ecclesia). Facs. of Hessische Landesbibliothek, MS 1 (Rupertsberg Codex, lost), fol. 66r. Source: Abbey of St. Hildegard
Fig. 2: Scivias III.11: The Five Ages and the Antichrist born of the Church. Facs. of Hessische Landesbibliothek, MS 1 (Rupertsberg Codex, lost), fol. 214v. Source: Abbey of St. Hildegard
Fig. 3: Gryllus, in detail from lower margin of Ormesby Psalter, Ps. 101: Bodleian Library, MS Douce 366, fol. 131r. Source: Bodleian Library