On 28 June 2010, Dr Valerie Gonzalez delivered a lecture at AKU-ISMC, entitled, The Perception of Muslims in the Christian Poetry of the “Romanceros Fronterizos” in Medieval and Post-Medieval Spain.
The talk examined Christian poetry from al-Andalus – one of the major ‘contact zones’ in the Muslim world – during the period following the Reconquista.
Dr Gonzalez demonstrated how the poetry of this period provides insight into the cosmopolitan nature of Spanish society of that time.
Challenging the myth of ‘convivencia’ that tends to romanticise the co-existence of Jewish, Christian and Muslim cultures during this period, Dr Gonzalez noted that such a myth masks the reality of 'multiculturalism and multi-confessionalism' which was marked by both conflict and forced conversion, as well as tolerance and cross-cultural exchange.
Dr Gonzalez demonstrated how the Romanceros Fronterizos poems emphasised the social distance between the two communities and tended to focus on the visual appearance of Muslims and other groups.
This ‘distant gaze’ was often linked to symbols of the military history of Muslims (focusing on weaponry, clothing and jewellery) or a mythology of Muslim treasure.
Examples of the material culture of the period, such as architecture, art, jewellery and clothing, were also used to illustrate the complicated web of shared influences between Christian and Muslim cultures.
In particular, Gonzalez highlighted the well-known Mudejar style of architecture and art, an essentially Christian interpretation of Islamic art, and an example of creative appropriation.
Dr Gonzalez specialises in Islamic art and material culture. She has held visiting lectureships at the University of Richmond, Dartmouth College, University of Aix-en-Provence and the School of Architecture in Marseille.
A member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, a fellow for the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, MIT and the Getty Research Institute, she has published and lectured extensively on Islamic visual culture, aesthetics, art and architecture. Her publications include Beauty and Islam, Aesthetics of Islamic Art and Architecture (IB Tauris, 2001).
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Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations