Embroidered Stories, Embroidered Lives

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:50 AM
Balcony N (New Orleans Marriott)
Miriam Ali-de-Unzaga, Papyrus Museum at the Austrian National Library
The silk and gold embroidered tunic from the Monastery of Oña in Burgos, Spain is a highly valuable historical gem: little known but paradigmatic of the entangled Muslim-Christian encounters within the Iberian Peninsula in the 10th and 11th centuries. The significance of this Andalusi embroidery resides firstly in its materiality: silk and gold of extremely high quality, secondly in its visual aesthetics: Arabic inscriptions (eulogies and qur’anic verses) as well as representations of a sovereign figure and sixty-six animals; and thirdly in its historical value, for it experienced several ‘biographies’ in al-Andalus and Castile. This paper reveals that the identity of the embroidered figure is the emir Abd-al-Rahman I, and that it was commissioned by the caliph Abd al-Rahman III. It also explores the ‘lives and stories’ of the embroidery within the family of the third count of Castile, Sancho García. He was the founder of the monastery of Oña, where the tunic ‘experienced’ its final biography as a funerary shroud for Tigridia, Sancho’s daughter. This case study goes beyond the paradoxes of both the ‘clash’ and the ‘convivencia’ positions, revealing how the embroidery acted as a transcultural agent in the political relationships between two competing contexts.