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Walk on the Wild Side

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image of Medieval Encounters

The figure of the wild man is one that crosses artistic disciplines and genres in the cultures of medieval Iberia. In this article I show how the wild man operates within a variety of meanings in diverse literary contexts that, working simultaneously at different narrative levels, cross over from literature into daily life and spectacles, from legal to political discourses. The figure's continued presence from the medieval period into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries suggests its use as a commonplace, as a motif with a number of fixed meanings that are put to work through context, providing the possibility of different, perhaps even contradictory readings. As commonplace, then, the wild man is presented as a case study for the reconsideration of other elements in the paintings of the Hall of Justice of the Alhambra, often interpreted to have a specific or fixed meaning, and thus programmed within a particular narrative. Seen in its entirety as a repository of commonplaces, I interpret the complex of the lateral paintings of the Hall of Justice in relation to the central one, in which a set of ten kings in Nasrid dress are depicted as conversing, as pretexts for narration that can be of a literary or juridical nature. I then go on to provide a possible itinerary of reading for the wild man scene not only in its immediate context, but as part of he overall visual project in a political key that illustrates the productive makeup of the paintings as pedagogical and ideological enterprise.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University, 313 Morrill Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA


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