The Bible of San Isidoro de León, 920

Something that came across on all the chapters of Section I of Megg’s History of Graphic Design was the power of religion, myths and the idea of super natural forces, sacred rituals and ultimately God to control populations and how these beliefs also inspired and motivated the different forms of expression of the studied cultures and generations. At the same time, wars and conquers were the fastest ways to transmit knowledge to different regions.

The Spanish pictorial expressionism of Middle Ages is very interesting to me given that during this period, Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed together under “Muslim ruled territory.” It is true that Christian and Jews were constrained and were considered “second class citizens” but the three groups managed to get along with a degree of religious freedom, benefiting from each other and bringing a degree of civilization similar to the Roman Empire or the Italian Renaissance.  I was fascinated with the idea presented on the text about using Arabic style designs to decorate Spanish Christian manuscripts. P.52. Developing on the topic, I found out that the Arabic influence was also present on some of the Hebrew Illuminated manuscripts created in that region, mostly Hebrew Bibles.  It is also very sad to think on the numerous Muslim Illuminated manuscripts created in Spain  are rare to find these days.  They were probably destroyed during the Inquisition, together with  Hebrew manuscripts.

Illuminated Manuscripts known as “Mozarabic” Manuscripts were created around the eleven and tenth century and are miniature religious books, written and designed in the scriptoriums of Leon and Castille. One of the strangest  Illuminated Manuscript of this period is the Bible of San Isidoro de León.  This Bible is well documented and the decorations and calligraphy as well as the annotations on the margins are in both, Latin and Arab. The book  is dated with great precision and combines strong Islamic, Visigothic and Caroline influences. The bible has schematic mofits, a lot  of zoomorphic representations and saturated colors, all the above characteristic of Mozarabic Illuminated Manuscripts.

Pages of Isidoro de León Bible

 This is one of the most studied bibles and  there are many articles related to this book.  Among them,  I found that  many studies relate the figures of bulls and some of the faces of “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso with some of the paintings of this bible. (See image below). It is known that the bible was displayed in Barcelona in 1929 and in Paris in 1937, year when Picasso completed Guernica responding to the bombimg of  the town of Guernica by the Germans in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Guernica is an iconic painting, a  vision of the Second World War and it is known as an international icon for peace. This is probably Picasso’s master piece and during his lifetime, the artist refused to explain the imagery presented on Guernica.

Louis Delaprée says on is catalogue for “ Picasso: Peace and Freedom “an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, May 21–August 30, 2010; the Albertina, Vienna, September 22, 2010–January 16, 2011; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark, February 11–May 29, 2011, Catalog of the exhibition edited by Lynda Morris and Christoph Grunenberg, London: Tate Publishing, 255 pp. .”As someone who frequently talked to Picasso in the 1950s, I realized that for all his overt loyalty to the French Communist Party, his most intense feelings in exile were more and more focused on Spain, specifically Spain’s “Golden Age” of Velázquez and Ribera, Góngora and Calderón. What Picasso wanted above all was a full-scale retrospective in his native land that would accord him a similar status.

I would  leave it here for now, wondering if Picasso,” being Picasso”, was thinking on honoring not only Guernica’s people, but also all the people who lived as “Mozarabics” (monks, priest, secular, ordinary people.)  The ones who did not have a choice and had to live, in a metaphoric way ” bullfighthing”  among Muslim rulers, anglo-saxon’s aristocrats and religious figures.  It is the same way Picasso’s generation lived while  Francisco Franco ruled Spain, and many other people lived and still live  under a similar or worse  situation since tyrannies  repeat  cyclically all over the world, just with different people different centuries and places.

Brief reference about the times

Moors invaded the Iberic Peninsula in the eight century and for 750 years established control in the South of the Peninsula, what is today Andalucía. During this period all aspects of culture from language, art and architecture had strong Moors influence. Together with Moors, inhabitants of the Iberic Peninsula included Jews, Christians. The Kingdoms of Castile, Aragón and Portugal (all located in the North of the Iberic Peninsula) slowly recovered from the Moor’s invasion and started what is known as “Reconquista,” that ended in 1492 with the fall of Granada.


Alejandra Chaverri

October 6th 2012

Other references

Mentré, Mireille. “Illuminated Manuscripsts of Medieval Spain” Thames and Hudson, 2nd Ed., 1996.


October 6th, 2012


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