In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mozarabic Art

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Mozarabs and the term “Mozarabic”
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Luxury Arts

Medieval Studies Mozarabic Art
Rose Walker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0213


Few artistic terms are as contentious as “Mozarabic art,” and some scholars prefer the term “repopulation art.” The word derives from the Arabic must‛arib, which means “Arabized” or “having assimilated Arabic customs.” It was not used widely in the Middle Ages, but from the middle of the 19th century it was employed to denote Christians who lived under Arab rule in al-Andalus. By extension, it was applied to Christians who emigrated to the northern Spanish kingdoms in the 9th and 10th centuries. However, the relationship between the people called Mozarabs and Mozarabic art is not straightforward. The patrons of this art were often, but not always, immigrant Mozarabs, and the origin, confessional affiliation, and training of the artisans and illuminators are even harder to ascertain. These artists are nonetheless visible occasionally through colophons in manuscripts and inscriptions from buildings. Geographically, Mozarabic art occurs almost exclusively within the Iberian peninsula. Very little survives of the art produced by Christians in al-Andalus, regarded as the only “authentic” Mozarabic art by some scholars: one manuscript, the Biblia Hispalense, and two buildings, Santa María de Melque and the rock-cut church at Las Mesas de Villaverde, often identified with Bobastro. In contrast, a substantial body of material, both manuscripts and buildings, still exists in the north of Spain and Portugal. Chronologically, Mozarabic art developed in the 10th century. The manuscripts are occasionally dated, and generally assigned, to the middle or second half of that century, although examples can be found as late as the early 12th century. In contrast, the more problematic architectural canon is traditionally placed in the early decades of the 10th century. In terms of style, Mozarabic art is defined against earlier Asturian and Carolingian art, and against later Romanesque art of the 11th and 12th centuries, and it is equally recognizable. It is also usually studied separately from the Islamic art of al-Andalus and from the “Mudéjar” art produced under Christian rule when the reconquest was gaining speed in the 13th and 14th centuries. The presence of the horseshoe arch might be said to link the manuscript and architectural bodies of material, but its use as a defining feature is complicated by the traditionally held view that it also characterized “Visigothic” art of the 7th century. An awareness of Late Antique architecture and manuscript illumination is apparent across the Mozarabic corpus. Many of the churches even incorporate reused architectural elements (spolia), and several of the manuscripts use banded backgrounds found, for example, in the c. 600 Ashburnham Pentateuch. This did not lead to a derivative art, as Mozarabic manuscripts and buildings frequently exhibit not only a high level of technical skill, but also imaginative invention. The peculiarly Iberian nature of Mozarabic art has entangled it in a range of nationalistic discourses that reflect old divisions between ideas of an essential Hispanic character (Hispanidad) and those that prefer to emphasize its eclectic nature (convivencia). The extent of the dependence of Mozarabic art on Islamic art and its possible transmission to the north remains at the center of this controversy.

General Overviews

There is no up-to-date comprehensive introduction to Mozarabic art that covers both architectural and manuscript production. Arbeiter and Noack-Haley 1999 is a solid introduction to both bodies of material, but it is not up-to-date archaeologically and embodies a very traditional approach. Historiographical positions generated within the peninsula often reflect political stances still raw from the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship of Franco. Gómez-Moreno 1919 and Gómez-Moreno 1951 remain important surveys of the material, especially of the architecture, perhaps because Gómez-Moreno was the early promotor of the concept of Mozarabic art. Dodds, et al. 2008 and Palol and Hirmer 1967 both extend into earlier and later periods. Dodds and colleagues treats the Mozarabic material as part of a celebration of cultural interaction (convivencia), whereas Palol stated aim was to draw attention to Spanish medieval art, which in the 1960s was still mostly ignored in favor of early medieval art from France and Italy. Walker 2016 offers the reader an alternative narrative based on recent research. Fontaine 1977 emphasizes the architectural evidence, with only brief treatment of manuscripts and luxury arts; Fontaine’s historical context focuses on monastic communities, as does Werckmeister 1993. Carrero and Rico 2015 approaches the corpus of material from a functional point of view.

  • Arbeiter, Achim, and Sabine Noack-Haley. Christliche Denkmäler des frühen Mittelalters: Vom 8. bis ins 11. Jahrhundert, Hispania antiqua. Mainz, Germany: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1999.

    A wide-ranging presentation of the traditional overview for this period. The first part is organized regionally for the architecture, with a final chapter on manuscript and luxury arts; the second is a catalogue with full bibliographies. In German, and few copies available in libraries.

  • Carrero, Eduardo, and Daniel Rico. “La organización del espacio litúrgico hispánico entre los siglos VI y XI.” Antiquité Tardive 23 (2015): 239–248.

    DOI: 10.1484/J.AT.5.109380

    Addresses the arrangement of liturgical space across the period in question, both in an international context and as a way of engaging in the broader debate. With an up-to-date bibliography.

  • Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400–1000. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-24135-4

    A clear historical introduction to the Visigothic, Asturian, and Mozarabic periods.

  • Dodds, Jerrilynn D., María Rosa Menocal, and Abigail Krasner Balbale. The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

    Considers the Mozarabs briefly in the context of convivencia. With a bibliographic essay and no footnotes.

  • Fontaine, Jacques. L’art préroman hispanique. 2 vols. La Pierre-qui-Vire, France: Zodiaque, 1977.

    Predominantly an architectural study, with two chapters on manuscripts and one on luxury arts. Puts the case for aesthetic unity in the peninsula led by al-Andalus. Useful review by Otto K. Werckmeister in Speculum (1982), pp. 604–607, in English.

  • Gómez-Moreno, Manuel. Iglesias mozárabes: Arte español de los siglos IX-XI. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Históricos, 1919.

    A seminal text that concentrates on architecture, with only brief summaries of luxury and manuscript art.

  • Gómez-Moreno, Manuel. Ars Hispaniae: Historia universal de arte hispánico. El arte árabe español hasta los almohades, arte mozárabe, 3. Madrid: Editorial Plus-Ultra, 1951.

    Part of a series, this volume pairs extensive consideration of “Arabic” art in Spain up to the late 12th century with a briefer analysis of Mozarabic art. It includes some valuable early-20th-century photography of buildings and object before more recent damage or restoration. See pp. 355–393, 394–404.

  • Palol, Pedro de, and Max Hirmer. Early Medieval Art in Spain. Translated by Alisa Jaffe. London: Thames and Hudson, 1967.

    Hirmer’s photography ensures that this remains a useful introduction, especially to the architecture and luxury arts of the Mozarabic period, but the text, written primarily for the general reader, lacks critical edge. Translated from the German edition of 1965.

  • Walker, Rose. Art of Spain and Portugal from the Romans to the Early Middle Ages: Routes and Myths. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2016.

    An overview that puts Mozarabic art in a broad historical and economic context. The structure is chronological and chapters are dedicated to the Visigothic period, the 8th and 9th centuries, and the 10th century.

  • Werckmeister, Otto K. “Art of the Frontier: Mozarabic Monasticism.” In The Art of Medieval Spain, A.D. 500–1200, pp. 121–132. New York: Metropolitan Museum, 1993.

    Addresses the monastic aspect of Mozarabic art, its relationship to Visigothic precedents, and possible Islamic borrowings in the context of migration from al-Andalus to the northern kingdoms.

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