In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art of Medieval Iberia

  • Introduction
  • Medieval History
  • General Overviews
  • Series
  • Journals
  • Anthologies of Medieval Texts
  • Museum and Manuscript Catalogues
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Iberian Art in General Surveys

Art History Art of Medieval Iberia
Tom Nickson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0140


Iberia’s medieval history has traditionally been understood in relation to a series of key events: 711–714, when Muslim forces from North Africa began their conquest of most of the Iberian Peninsula; 1031, when the Cordoban caliphate finally collapsed, and 1085, when Alfonso VI captured Islamic Toledo (Tulaytula), marking a significant shift in the balance of power in the peninsula; 1128–1179, when the kingdom of Portugal was founded and officially recognized; 1282, when Peter III of Aragon was crowned king of Sicily, cementing the political and mercantile power of Aragon-Catalonia in the Mediterranean; 1492, when Columbus first landed in the Americas, when Jews were expelled from Spain (and from Portugal in 1496), and when Ferdinand and Isabella of Aragon and Castile captured Nasrid Granada, Iberia’s last Islamic polity; and 1497–1499, when Vasco da Gama made his first sea voyage to India. In terms of its arts, however, Iberia’s medieval period may be pushed back to the 6th century, to the earliest Visigothic metalwork and architecture, and moved forward well into the 16th century, when gothic traditions mingled with Italianate motifs in Lisbon, Salamanca, and Palma, while Nasrid marquetry techniques (taracea) continued to flourish in Andalucia. Political, linguistic, and cultural borders shifted significantly in this period, and they continue to condition modern art-historical scholarship, whether divisions among Jewish, Islamic, and Christian/ “Western” art histories or the intense regionalism – reinforced by modern political and institutional structures—that has atomized art-historical studies on medieval Iberia. Insofar as the scholarship allows—and partly to complement it—this article thus deliberately resists traditional classifications by geography, confession, period, and medium. More focused bibliographies can be found in the Oxford Bibliographies in Art History articles, “Jewish Art, Medieval to Early Modern” and “Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula”; and Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article “Spanish Art.” This article, therefore, focuses broadly on resources rather than specific studies, with a preference for sources in English, when available.

Medieval History

No comprehensive, up-to-date survey of the histories of medieval Iberia are available; however, Barton 2009 and Disney 2009 offer broad but authoritative and concise English-language histories of Spain and Portugal, respectively. Collins 2002 provides a useful survey of the period before 1000, including an important review of the chronicle evidence in relation to architecture. The construction of history is also a central theme of Linehan 1993, a complex and magisterial study of the period up to 1350, while Hillgarth 1978 focuses on the later Middle Ages, and gives more equal treatment to the Crown of Aragon. Fernández Conde 2005–2011 represents a major synthetic work on (Christian) religion in medieval Spain from the 7th century to the 15th century. Catlos 2018 provides a new history of al-Andalus that extends well after 1492. Novikoff 2005 summarizes two hugely influential and contrasting versions of Spanish identity: Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz’s vision of an essential “Spanishness” (Hispanidad) running through Iberian history, and the notion of a “melting-pot” nation generated from its pluralistic pasts, expounded in Castro 1971.

  • Barton, Simon. A History of Spain. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-01347-7

    Barton was a noted historian of medieval Spain, and this succinct history helps to understand Spain’s medieval history within a broader historical trajectory.

  • Castro, Américo. The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History. Translated by Willard Fahrenkamp King and Selma Margaretten. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

    First published in 1948 as España en su historia: Cristianos, moros y judíos (Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada). Written in exile (from Franquist Spain) in North America, this influential work sets out Castro’s understanding of the role of religious tolerance in shaping Spanish history and culture. This was first identified with the much-debated notion of convivencia (living together) in a heavily modified version, first published in 1954 as La realidad histórica de España (Mexico City: Porrúa).

  • Catlos, Brian A. Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

    A new history of Muslim Iberia (including Portugal) in six parts, from 700 to 1614, when systematic attempts to expel Moriscos from Spain officially ended. Catlos’s study looks closely at the history of interactions with Jewish and Christian society and traditions, complementing his extensive involvement with the Mediterranean Seminar.

  • Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400–1000. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403919779

    Originally published 1983. A short and highly accessible history of early medieval Spain (and Portugal) that incorporates some of Collins’s earlier studies on chronicles and church building. This volume is especially helpful for setting Spanish history in a broader European context.

  • Disney, Anthony R. A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Volume 1 focuses on Portugal from pre-Roman times to 1807, Volume 2 on the Portuguese Empire. Volume 1 includes one chapter on al-Andalus, and five chapters on Portugal prior to its union with Habsburg Spain (1581–1640).

  • Fernández Conde, Francisco Javier. La religiosidad medieval en España. 3 vols. Oviedo, Spain: Universidad de Oviedo, 2005–2011.

    Ground-breaking study of religion in medieval Spain, divided chronologically into three volumes: 7th10th centuries, 11th13th centuries, and 14th15th centuries.

  • Hillgarth, Jocelyn N. The Spanish Kingdoms, 1250–1516. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978.

    Combines a chronological and thematic structure, including sections on culture (broadly understand). The Crown of Aragon (including Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands) is given roughly equal treatment to Castile.

  • Linehan, Peter. History and the Historians of Medieval Spain. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198219453.001.0001

    Rendered in almost seven hundred pages of Linehan’s characteristically dense, witty, skeptical prose, this work advances in approximately chronological order from the 6th century to 1350 (though originally intended to continue up to Philip II), with a particular focus on the Church and the Crown of Castile. Oviedo, León, and Toledo feature heavily, as do historiography (medieval and modern) and material culture. A masterly study, but one that is not for the faint-hearted.

  • Mattoso, José, Maria de Lurdes Rosa, Bernardo Vasconcelos e Sousa, and Maria João Branco, eds. The Historiography of Medieval Portugal, c. 1950–2010, Estudos. Lisbon: Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. Instituto de Estudos Medievais, 2011.

    Thematic essays by leading scholars. Includes an essay on the study of medieval art and another on Islamic and Christian archaeology.

  • Novikoff, Alex. “Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma.” Medieval Encounters 11.1–2 (2005): 7–36.

    DOI: 10.1163/157006705775032834

    Examines notions of tolerance and pluralism in the historiography of medieval Iberia, from the 17th century to the present, with particular focus on the 20th century. Especially useful in contextualizing studies by both Spanish and non-Spanish scholars.

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