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Professor Explores Mudejar Art

Dr. Eileen McKiernan Gonzalez, Berea College art history professor, presented details from a research trip she took to Spain this summer at a recent Friday Faculty Colloquium. The professor, who completed her doctorate in May 2005, is furthering research of her dissertation topic.

McKiernan Gonzalez chats with peers prior to her lecture

While in Spain she began a photographic survey of women’s monasteries and convents dating from the 12-14th centuries in which Mudejar art was prominently used. “I am interested in why the style becomes synonymous with a courtly style in the kingdom of Castilla-Leon, but not in the other peninsular kingdoms,” she explained.

Another puzzle the professor hopes to unravel in her research is why the style appears prominently in women’s cloisters, but not in men’s. At that time, nuns came from royal families and she believes that “plays an important role in the conception of style.”

At the forum, McKiernan Gonzalez explained that 12th century Spain was a “microcosm for Muslim and Christian blending” of art after Christianity became dominant in the country. Mudejar means “those who stayed” and refers to the Islamic Moors who remained in France and left their cultural thumbprints in the ornate architecture, which was blended with Gothic and Romanesque styles.

“Mudejar art is one of the characteristics that defines differences between Spain and northern European architecture …. The issue … is that it continues to be used prominently in courtly settings after the conquered ‘other’ (Muslims) no longer had an institutional presence on the peninsula.” The professor contends that the understanding of the Mudejar style changed over time from indicating a Muslim influence to a “courtly style that distinguished the Castilian-Leonese court from its neighbors ….“Castilla, of all the kingdoms, was the one that attempted to integrate the people the most.”

Some of the sites McKiernan Gonzalez visited and showed photos of were Sinagoga Santa Maria la Blanca, a cathedral that was transformed from a synagogue built in 1203; Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas, an early 12th century monastery and cathedral connected with the royal house; and the Santa Clara de Tordesillas, a 14th century-built Mudejar palace that now houses a convent.

To contact Dr. McKiernan Gonzalez, visit her Web page.

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