Essay: Court paintings express perceptions of Moriscos in the charged language of style, allegory & composition.

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  • Court paintings express perceptions of Moriscos in the charged language of style, allegory & composition.
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On the 9th April 1609, a decree was issued ruling that all descendants of Spanish Muslims, an officially baptised community, known as “Moriscos” were to be expelled. This event (1609-1614) ruptured and created two distinct communities and perpetuated the moorification of the Moriscos’ image. This dissertation intends to place court paintings of Moriscos in their historical-ideological framework and to reveal the way in which they express perceptions of Moriscos in the charged language of style, allegory and composition. I will prove how ideas of Moriscos, negotiated and expressed in art, changed during and after the expulsion as they became closely related to the court’s conception of the King and Spanish identity. I will trend how the image of the Moriscos became more ideological and abstracted from the reign of Philip III to Philip IV’s, as a more sophisticated leviathan sought to negate its decline and assert its continuity with Spain’s military and godly past. Deconstructing the images of Moriscos will reveal the intentions and ideas of their creators – the King, Court and their artists.

My focus on visual culture was encouraged by the period’s acute awareness of the coercive power and centrality of art and reputation in Spanish court politics as Philip IV noted: arms and ‘letters, scholarship and the arts…are the two poles which govern the moment of monarchies, and are the foundations on which they rest”. Spanish identity and reputation were particularly significant throughout Spain’s period of decline; as the Spanish identity Castile had developed over the sixteenth century, fuelled by its growing empire and triumphs, came under pressure as the 1590-1620’s witnessed the fall of its economic strength and the rise of foreign powers. The perceived overcoming of this identity crisis by the ethnic-cleansing of the expulsion defined Spanish identity from that point on by its ethno-religious opposition to Muslim peoples, a distinction further perpetuated by the reform programme set to restore Spain.

The representation of religious alterity in the Mediterranean has been one of the most significant fields of study in European scholarship over recent years. Historians agree that representations of Muslims, which predominantly consisted of demonization, animalization, and deformation , worsened post-expulsion however, they have neglected the experience of visual representations of Moriscos in this process. There has not been a comprehensive study of the Morisco’s visual representations, only isolated piecemeal case studies, this dissertation attempts to contribute to this largely untouched subject by analysing court paintings of Moriscos. De Bunes Ibarra argues that the negative representation of the Moriscos in written sources became more extreme following their expulsion to justify their banishment. However, Capriotti and Franco conclude that these negative views were not evident in art. I contest this arguing that negative perceptions of Moriscos in court art were explicit and necessary to assert the King’s power.

De Bunes Ibarra limits the early roots of Spain’s orientalism to representations of North Africans and Ottomans on account of the historic hybridity of Spain. However, I argue that the distinction established between Moriscos and Old Christians to legitimise their expulsion, which became central to Spanish identity, that categorised Moriscos as “Oriental Others” necessitates their consideration as victims of Spain’s orientalism. My perspective thus contests Perceval’s assertion that the expulsion eased the contentiousness of Spain’s hybridity rendering the Orientalism construct redundant. This study of visual representations of Moriscos will add to the existing material on their written representation as early perceptions and constructions of race were most effectively expressed by visual culture, as it most directly expressed the visual sense.

I will follow an integrated approach, outlined by Professor Jordanova in The Look of the Past, pulling on the fields of political, intellectual, cultural and art history to unite the paintings with their contexts, looking for what their models or ideological themes might be in art, theatre and written ‘images of Moriscos’, and linking them with information concerning their inventors: their artists and patrons. I will analyse what meaning people invested into these paintings: how they were handled, gifted, used, and perceived.

The chapters have been structured according to the different contextual backgrounds of the case studies. Chapter 1, focuses on a series of seven history paintings, La expulsion de los Moriscos del Reino de Valencia, created outside of the Castilian court during Philip III’s reign. I will explore how the series articulated the Moriscos’ image and expulsion narrative and discourse, measuring how variances within the series and from written sources reveal the hand of the artists and their patron. Chapter 2 focuses on how the representation of Moriscos by pintores del Rey, in Carducho’s sketch and Velázquez’s painting Philip III y la Expulsión de los Moors, became defined by their function and proximity to the Kings’ image and the Hall of Mirrors’ ideological programme. The final chapter focuses on the representation of the Morisco “self” in portraiture to explore how the Moorish “self” was further degenerated outside of the frame of royal portraiture by analysing the Buen Retiro’s jester portraits and a Morisco’s portrait.

Chapter 3: The Moorish Portrait: The King’s Marginalia and his Morisco Citizen
As already established in Chapter two, the Moriscos’ image in the insular tradition of court functioned as a grotesque periphery that defined and augmented the ideal model at the centre – the ethno-religious identity of the Christian King and his Court. This chapter will analyse the representation of Moriscos within portraiture produced inside and outside the court. As Laura Bass explains ‘“the self” of a portrait is a subject constructed in the interplay of artists, sitter and ideal viewer’ and at the intersection, in our study, of identity, race and royal power. This focus reveals how the representation of the “Moorish Other” differed once unconstrained by the need to be credible which was required when it was functioning as an accompaniment inside the King’s portrait.
So far, I have focused on visual representations of Moriscos however, as Irigoyen-García’s study of the sartorial moorification of Moriscos in historical and theatrical accounts and the visual sources selected proves, the Moriscos became conflated within a generalised typology of Muslims in visual culture, the “Moorish Other”. This contests Perceval’s assertion that there were common factors of identity distinguishing between these communities. Velazquez’s jester portrait series (1632) in the Buen Retiro and the Marques de Leganes collection, are the focus of the first half of this chapter. Their life-size representation and theatrical poses indicate that their theatrical function was central to their portraits and thus transcends the limits of the traditional intents of portraiture. How the jesters degenerated the representation of Moriscos and how Velazquez expressed this in Cristóbal de Castañeda y Pernia’s portrait (figure.1) will be explored. I will address how the portrait of the Moorish Other fitted in with the staircase pictorial programme which proves that expulsion did not render the orientalism construct redundant. I will show how these portraits of jesters dressed as moors related to the King’s image. By contrasting the court’s representation of the “Moorish self” with the portrait of Morisco Juan de Pareja I will place the Court’s image in a wider context.

The portrait of court jester Cristóbal, (figure.1) represented and would have been understood as representing the Moorish “Oriental Other”, a generalised typology which conflated the ‘moorified’ image of Moriscos with other Muslim communities, particularly Turkish peoples. Interpretations of Cristóbal’s portrait have limited themselves by focusing on the jester’s nickname, Barbarossa, and his renowned characterisations of Turkish soldiers. A few details undermine the conclusion that Cristóbal is representing a historical Turkish character specifically: the sitter wears a red tunic typical of Moorish dress (figure.2) and consistent with chronicler, Carvajal’s description of the Morisco rebellion leader’s clothing, “a red Moorish hooded tunic” as distance in time permitted the author to merge the image of Moriscos with that of medieval Moors ; and is missing the prime symbol of his supposed “turkishness” – his turban. Velazquez’s consciously went against convention in depicting Cristóbal without a turban as in all other portraits of Barbarrosa he wears a turban (figure.3) and jesters were portrayed wearing turbans. For example, Velazquez’s portrait of “Calabazas con turbante” (lost) signals his character’s alignment with Turkish culture. Therefore, Cristobal’s costume is not specifically Turkish but a generalised ensemble that infers his character’s Moorishness. The 1701 inventory description of the portrait “a buffoon with Turkish-style costume” is the result of the visual moorification and conflation of moriscos with Turkish peoples in the historical imagination. Irigoyen-García has demonstrated the visual moorification of moriscos post-expulsion as part of the myth of sartorial revival crafted in historiographical works on the Alpujarras rebellion in the 1620’s. Velazquez’s portrait of the jester in Moorish dress marks the mid-point in this process, carrying striking parallels with contemporary written and visual works on the Alpujarras rebellion: Francisco Heylan (1624) engraving for Antolinez de Burgos’ Historia de Granada depicts the Moriscos dressed as Turks (figure.5) and Calderon de La Barca’s, Amar después de la muerte visually distinguished Moriscos as a foreign entity, which did not “look like Spaniards”. Velazquez, Heylan and Calderon’s works express the mid-seventeenth century’s increasingly restrictive concept of Spanish ethno-religious identity. The artistic and theatrical visual material analysed shows that at least in the visual arts there was a conflation of Muslim types into one “Moorish Other” that would have been recognized in Cristóbal’s portrait. The jester in “Turkish-style clothing” represented, not a singular Turkish corsair but, Morisco, Moor and Turk all in one.

Velazquez degraded the image of this “Moorish Other” in the portraits of Calabazas and Cristóbal by compounding the physical and mental incapacities of these “natural buffoons” with the perceived bestial nature of infidels. Karl Justi suggested that Jesters provided different kinds of entertainment for the court and that they may have been representative of different racial types. Historians have criticised this argument for its lack of evidence. However, I would reassert it arguing that there was a significant trend in using ‘natural fools’ to play the roles of Muslim peoples that compounded the philosophical significance of natural fools with that of infidels. Velazquez’s portrait of Cristóbal highlights the physical indicators of the jester’s mental weakness which pervaded his characterization of the brutish Moorish infidel; Cristóbal violently grasps his empty sheath whilst his other hand limply holds his sword, forgotten. As discussed previously, humanists’ perspectives of infidels emphasised their low, bestial nature. By their natures, infidels and fools shared the same low rank on the scale of human development. Cristóbal (1633-49) further qualified for this lower rank as he was described as “Loco” (mad) as suggested in his intense expression, and thus would be categorized by contemporaries as a ‘natural fool’: weak or mentally deranged and often physically deformed people. His portrait is thus representative of a trend I have discovered: throughout the seventeenth century there were court dwarves and jesters with physical or mental disabilities who assumed “Moorish” characteristics such as Lora (described as Turquilla in 1617), La Turquilla, Francisco Bazan, a madman vulgarly called “Anima del Purgatorio” who it is known was made to dress-up at least once as a Turk, and Calabazas (figure.6) (1630-39) an “enano y truhán”, who was painted wearing a turban in Marques de Leganes’s collection alongside copies of Phillip IV’s Cristóbal and Juan de Austria. It is even more significant that these jesters who assumed the guise of Moorish peoples were “natural fools”. The dehumanized depiction of the morisco clown in Máscara de la Expulsión de los Moriscos (1617) is a useful comparison:“Un moro ridiculo (por el vestido, figura personal y lenguaje aljamaiado de su voz. Jesters functioned as the physical antithesis of the court’s ideals, blood purity, intelligence and faith. Jesters in their most acute form as “natural fools” many would assume the racial characteristics of infidels. Velazquez’s paintings of jesters should be seen as pictorial examples of this framework of deliberate opposition, as it “mediates between a classical/classificatory body and its negations, its Others, what it excludes to create it’s identity”. The court’s construction of an inferior “Oriental Other” as pictorially articulated by Velazquez is a pre-colonial example of European’s constructing myths of the Middle East to legitimate their superiority in their relationship with the Orient. The placing of the comparative physical normality of the artificial fool playing Juan de Austria, the bastion of militant Catholicism, next to the natural fool playing the role of the mad oriental further compounded physical and mental abnormality with raza. Court jesters’ characterizations of Moorish types as expressed in Cristóbal and Calabazas’s portraits, combined the degeneracy of unenlightened infidels with the incapacities of the ‘natural buffoons’ imitating them.

Velazquez affirms this distinction through painterly style and composition as he depicted the jesters in different representative terms to distinguish them from the morally dignified. Velazquez treated Cristobal’s face with rough and hasty dabs of paint of almost-pure colours so that his eyes are unfixed and blurred, and half of his face is shadowed, offsetting any determination of the direction of his gaze to express his suspect character. The scholarly consensus affirms that Velazquez used rough brushwork, highlight and impasto to stress the earthly bearing of jesters and pagan men and their brutish behaviours and deformities brought out by uncontrolled instincts, desires and idiocy. Velazquez deliberately varied his brushwork to express the human dignity of his subject as evident in the example of Prince Baltasar Carlos with the Count-Duke of Olivares at the Royal Mews, (figure.7) Prince Charles is refined and polished whilst the miniscule degenerate jester is shadowed, reduced to a few rough dabs of paint. All the jesters are treated with the same technique however, through colour, pose and finish the “Oriental other” is again distinguished. Velazquez used pigments to the fullness of their meaning, thus I propose that the use of red in this portrait of the barbarous Muslim ‘self’ is significant. In paintings, theatres and chronicles Moors are depicted in red for example, The Surrender of Seville to Ferdinand III (figure.9) the Moor King kneels dressed in a carmine red similar to Cristóbal’s tunic. Cristóbal was rendered “bosquejado”, unfinished, his tunic has been blocked out in the basic colours without any chiaroscuro, that this was perceived as unproblematic to his representation, it was exhibited and given the same monetary value as the others of the same size, suggests that audiences would accept this incompleteness as part of his representation if not a further indication of the “self’s” low being. In technique, colour and pose Cristobal’s figure is rough, suspect and violent, within Velazquez’s canon these qualities declare the moral depravity of the “Moorish Other”.

Set within the pictorial programme of the Jester series this ideologically charged portrait of the “Moorish Other” functioned as the antithesis of Spain, as its placement next to the portrait, El bufón llamado don Juan de Austria asserted the dichotomy of Christian versus Moor. This binary of Juan de Austria versus “Moorish Other” functioned as an early modern version of Orientalism. The two figures embody these diametrically opposed groups, as already established Cristobal represented the “Moorish Other” and Juan de Austria the militant Catholic bulwark against the infidels: admiral of the Holy Alliance fleet at Lepanto and victor over the Moriscos in the Alpujarras Rebellion (1568-71).The image of the “Moorish Other”, like contemporary representations of ISIS, had been de-historicised and objectivised as the ruling powers constructed the Oriental subject as static, incapable of change and without the tools to advance, in order to limit its potentiality and assert its own superiority. The visual proximity of Juan de Austria and Cristóbal, exhibited side by side, invited a negative comparison that activated a pre-colonial version of Said’s Orientalism; as Spain, represented by Juan de Austria, “gained its strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient”. The comparison established the “Moorish Other” to be the unchanging, backward oriental who grasps his archaic weapon which is futile against the technological superiority of Spain’s firearms and canons which surround the nation’s renowned hero. Juan de Austria’s identity as a Catholic militant hero is thereby magnified by his proximity to the portrait of the “Moorish Other” and his historic violent opposition to Muslims as referenced by the naval battle-scene fragment in the background which depicts the defeat of the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto. The proposed didactic function of this pictorial programme is supported by the fact that painting series of staircases in the Alcazar and Buen Retiro all expressed power, supremacy and lineage of the Spanish monarchy, the Buen Retiro’s were principally decorated with lessons of kingship. The jester portraits thus reveal a psychological dependence on those being rigorously opposed and their function to delineate the characteristics of Spanish identity – opposition in nature and behaviour to infidels.

More specifically this portrait of a jester representing the Moorish Other symbolised an antithesis of the King’s image, as jesters were understood as parodic reflections of power and their moorification paralleled the de-moorification of the King’s image as moorishness was forced to the margins of Spanishness as part of Olivares’s reform programme to re-catholicise the king. As evidenced by a comparison between Alfonso Sánchez Coello’s dual portrait Infantes don Diego and Don Felipe (1579) in Turkish dress (figure.11) holding canes and Velázquez’s portrait of Cristóbal costumed in Moorish dress, Moorishness as a quality of the ‘self’ was removed from the body of the king onto the degenerate bodies of court jesters in the reign of Philip IV. Previous to Philip IV’s reign, King’s costumed their bodies in Moorish dress (figure.12) to participate in the noble sport juegos de cañas which Irigoyen-García explains was a display of grandeur and status for nobles. Coello’s dual portrait references this tradition continued by Philip III who participated on at least two occasions in Plaza Mayor of Valadolid (figure.13):“on his head a Turkish beret wrapped up with a white Tunisian turban…Christian in his heart and Moor in his dress”. In contrast, to this Philip III’s portrait, once commissioned by Philip IV, presented an image of military power and purity symbolised by his “wearing an armour and dressed in white”. Olivares’s regime initiated the disuse and exoticisation of Moorish dress and the ideological instrumentalization of Spanish history that asserted the heterogeneity of the Old Christian caste and distinguishing them from the Moriscos on ethnic and religious grounds. The unseemliness of the display of Moorish clothing specifically on the body of the king reflects the ideological intervention of Olivares’s reform programme that sought to re-catholicise the King image and purify the collective imaginary of Iberian identity of its Islamic history. . As already demonstrated the image of Moriscos, whether functioning as the marginalia of Kinship in Philip III and the Expulsion of the Moors (fig.10) or as anti-Muslim representation used to represent the triumph of Lerma and the Philip III over Spain’s archetype or when imitated by Jesters, was used to political effect to establish and assert Spain’s Old Christian identity. The Moorish Other in the Cristobal’s portrait was specifically an inversion of the King’s image as jesters were instruments “of opposition and comparison with the Monarch”. The representation of Jesters dressed as Moors, which further deformed and radicalised their visual image, are satellites projecting messages about the purity of the King, the reformer.

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