Mark S. Weiner

Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

The Only Post about Medieval Law that Ends with a Video from Beck

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Books and libraries, Europe, Spain, Uncategorized on August 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm

From the Vidal MayorOne of the most powerful aspects of the Vidal Mayor—the subject of my previous three posts—is how it portrays people engaged in everyday legal activities and disputes. The illuminated manuscript shows the law in action, and it depicts law as a human creation.

In this respect, the images in the Getty’s manuscript remind me a bit of the judicial bobbleheads I discussed in my first video.

But there’s something even deeper going on, because the figures are also meant to embody principles of jurisprudence. They are meant both to represent and to set in motion a way of thinking about law.

In a fine academic article about the subject, one scholar describes the significance of the images this way:

The functioning of [their] representative mode can be grasped when perceived in the context of the larger meaning attributed to the category of the imago in the Middle Ages: not only as a symbolic material product—miniatures or metaphors—but equally as a mental image, an imaginary mental operation, in this case the juridical enunciation of a case. Through this structure, the Vidal Mayor’s images adopt the formula of juridical casuistry. Not only do they reproduce the casuistic methodology by giving yet another juridical example for each fuero, but also the image itself reproduces the casuistic procedure undertaken by the judge as he is shown stating a particular case in his court. Through reproducing the methods of jurisprudence, the images of this manuscript on customary law, make up, in this manner, the core of juridical complexities. Their visual movement originates in the court, moves through the particular case stated, and then takes us back to the court where the fuero is being applied—thus to the text.

Like this scholar, I’m struck most powerfully by how the images of the Vidal Mayor depict legal ideas through human gestures—especially hands.

And so, without saying more, I’ll include some of those hands here—and let the images do the talking … partly because the hands are so evocative of legal and social relationships, but also just because they’re beautiful. For medieval atmosphere, I recommend playing this soundtrack in the background (it’s from roughly the same time and place).

Small Blank Space
From the Vidal Mayor

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Muslims, Christians and Legal Bargaining

In Books and libraries, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Islam, Spain on August 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Back to the Getty’s images from the Vidal Mayor, the great thirteenth-century redaction of Aragonese law.

The manuscript emerges from a critical moment in the relation between Christianity and Islam, the Spanish Reconquista—the gradual capture by Christian crusaders of Muslim Iberia, the caliphate of al-Andalus.

This moment plays a vital role in the ideology of Al Qaeda and its Salafi-jihadist affiliates. Osama bin Laden spoke repeatedly of the “tragedy of al-Andalus,” and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb frequently refers to Muslim Spain in its messaging (for more detail, see this succinct article from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point).

The political imagination of Al Qaeda and company, that is, is fueled by the historical memory of the larger time and place in which Bishop Vidal de Cañellas made his great legal redaction for King James I of Aragon.

From Vidal Mayor

In my previous post, I noted that the charters, or fueros, that the Vidal Mayor incorporates were part of a process in which Iberian royals attracted Christian settlement within the peninsula by offering various legal privileges. They used fueros much like Delaware today uses its laws of incorporation—as an enticement.

If you’re a king and want to attract merchants to a town, what do you do? Provide its inhabitants with especially strong protections of their private property and announce that henceforth they’re exempt from certain taxes. In the meantime, put an end to the violence of clan feuds, which are detrimental to commerce.

Want to draw nobles to a frontier where they may have to fight Muslim forced by horseback?  Provide them with legal exemptions from their usual mandatory military service. Read the rest of this entry »

The Internationalism of Particularism

In Books and libraries, Europe, Spain on August 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Yesterday, I began to discuss an illuminated medieval manuscript in the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Vidal Mayor of thirteenth-century Aragon. Today, I want to share a few thoughts about why the manuscript is so interesting.

The Getty’s copy of the Vidal Mayor is in fact not the original Latin work of about 1247 but rather a translation into Navarro-Aragonese created in about 1290-1310 by the scribe Michael Lupi de Çandiu. This is a gorgeous manuscript, and I can’t resist including another one of its decorated initials here:

From Vidal Mayor

That’s James I, King of Aragon, supervising a law court, under the arch of a large N. The letter opens a manuscript page discussing trial practice, at the beginning of a section of the Vidal Mayor about legal procedure.

One of the many things I love about this manuscript is its international flavor. I know that’s a strange thing to say.

After all, we’re talking about a manuscript that most people would consider about as cosmopolitan as the manual of Supreme Court trial practice of Wisconsin. It’s a text that was translated into a language that few can read today. And it was created in a kingdom whose name most people confuse with an awesome character from Peter Jackson’s film of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (that would be Aragorn, son of Arathorn). Read the rest of this entry »

“O Valencia!” Oh, Aragon! Oh, 1247!

In Books and libraries, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Islam, Spain on August 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I received an email yesterday that caused me to lean back from my desk, look up, and audibly whisper “oh, wow, now that’s just incredibly cool.”

The message brought word of a new digital program by the J. Paul Getty Trust called “open content.” In the words of a press release of August 12, the goal of the program is “to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible” (emphasis added, with joy). The press release continues:

The initial focus of the Open Content Program is to make available all images of public domain artworks in the Getty’s collections. Today we’ve taken a first step toward this goal by making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose. These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size.

If the idea of free, unrestricted, high-res, metadata-rich images of great art touches a chord deep inside you, I hope you’ll join me for a moment in jumping up and down in glee.

Hands from Vidal MayorNaturally, I immediately had to check out the search gateway and start browsing—in particular, to look for images with legal themes. And I found some great ones.

Today, I’ve been captivated by images from an illuminated medieval manuscript called the Vidal Mayor. This beauty has nothing to do with mayors or with anyone named Sassoon. Instead, it’s the essential redaction of laws of thirteenth-century Aragon—and before this admittedly just somewhat obscure idea causes anyone click “back” on their browser, let me share what this means.

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