'Imagining the Passion' through devotional art

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Syl Kacapyr
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"Imagining the Passion in a Multi-Confessional Castile" by Cynthia Robinson.

Cynthia Robinson reveals the interrelation of late medieval Iberian religious practices and culture among coexisting sects in her new book, “Imagining the Passion in a Multi-Confessional Castile: The Virgin, Christ, Devotions, and Images in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries” (2013, Penn State University Press).

Through an examination of devotional culture in the Castile region of Iberia up to the mid-15th century, Robinson finds that the “personalized” imagery narrating Christ’s passion, then prevalent in religious art across western Europe, was not a major influence for Castilian followers’ individual relationships to Christ.

By placing Iberian devotional art in the context of devotional practice of the period – the so-called “Three Confessions” (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) of Iberian religious culture – Robinson provides evidence of the impact of each religion on the others. She argues for the need to reorient discussions of religious art produced and used in Castile, instead of focusing on the segregation of the religious lives of members of the three sects.

Among the examples Robinson examines are altarpieces that differ radically from their European contemporaries, architectural ornaments, a series of narratives of Christ’s life, Muslim and Jewish mystical texts and devotions and psalms to the Virgin that appear to be uniquely Iberian. She finds resonances of Iberia’s interrelated devotional culture in Hebrew and Arabic mystical literature; in sacred gardens and trees in Muslim, Christian and Jewish textual and visual culture; and in preaching manuals written by converted Jews.

Cynthia Robinson

Her analysis of texts and images ranges across traditional disciplinary and cultural divides, showing relationships beyond the supposed boundaries of a specific religion and each culture’s relationship with the other – and leading the way for further interdisciplinary research.

Robinson is chair of the Department of the History of Art. She teaches courses including Islamic art and culture, the late medieval art of devotion and gothic art and architecture. Her research interests are the visual, literary, courtly and religious manifestations of cultural and confessional contact and interchange in the Mediterranean world between 1000 and 1500 A.D., with particular focus on the Iberian peninsula.

Her other books include the studies of early Mediterranean courtly culture, “Three Ladies and A Lover” (2006) and “In Praise of Song” (2002), and a novel, “The Will of Venus” (2012).

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