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Hunting in the Borderlands (for Oleg Grabar)

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In an article now three decades old, I suggested that the Paintings of the Hall of Justice of the Alhambra used Arthurian iconography as part of a fashionable admiration for Gothic style and the language of chivalry in the Nasrid court, one which was subverted by the polarizing imagery of a Muslim and a Christian fighting. However, I failed at the time to take into full account the extraordinary hunting cycle of the Hall of Justice paintings, discrete groups of hunters and their prey that were interspersed with surprising episodes from romance narratives. These images picture Christians and Muslims as polarized and opposed. In fact, I believe it is in these very images of domination and apparent differentiation that a deep interconnectedness can be found. This study uses the painting cycle from the Hall of Justice of the Alhambra as a means of exploring, not just common styles and motives, but artistic meanings that were held in common between courts. In particular, hunting as an attribute of lordship and sovereignty is key here, in a world in which relationships between Nasrids and Castilians were still largely feudal and many meanings shared, allying the parties we once supposed to be 'other.' There, hunting as iconographic shorthand for ownership of the land appears in surprising and deflected ways. Through a discussion of the Palace of Pedro I at the Alcázar of Seville, contemporary literary evocations of the courtly tradition and of the practice and meaning of the hunt, as these were known on the Iberian peninsula, and the exploration of narrative and emblematic languages of form, I hope to reveal an imagery which suggests domination but masks a complicit, symbiotic interaction. Hunting imagery becomes the means by which both Nasrids and Castilians act out a ceremonial opposition to another with whom they are socially and culturally intertwined.

Affiliations: 1: City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA


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