Medieval Marvels at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid

Medieval Marvels at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid

Reccesvinth's crown from the Guarrazar Hoard. A collection of gold crowns and crosses dating between 621 and 672 AD, these masterpieces of Visigothic art show Late Roman and Byzantine influences. This crown, for example, has a reused Byzantine pectoral cross. It was popular for royalty, clergy, and leading civilians to donate crowns and crosses as votive offerings.
Reccesvinth’s crown from the Guarrazar Hoard. A collection of gold crowns and crosses dating between 621 and 672 AD, these masterpieces of Visigothic art show Late Roman and Byzantine influences. This crown, for example, has a reused Byzantine pectoral cross. It was popular for royalty, clergy, and leading civilians to donate crowns and crosses as votive offerings.

In previous posts, I’ve been exploring the newly renovated Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. We’ve looked at the museum’s Celtiberian and Roman collections, and now let’s see the museum’s other great collection, that of the medieval period.

Several crowns from the Guarrazar Hoard.
Several crowns from the Guarrazar Hoard.

The collection is especially strong in Visigothic art. The Visigoths ruled Spain from 475 to 711, when they were defeated by the Umayyid Muslims. During this time, they developed a distinctive artistic style that borrowed from Classical and Byzantine influences. Several Visigothic hoards have been uncovered in Spain and many of these treasures are now on display.

Fragments of a cross from the Guarrazar Hoard. A sketched reconstruction is below.
Fragments of a cross from the Guarrazar Hoard. A sketched reconstruction is below.

After the arrival of the Muslims from North Africa, Spain developed into Western Europe’s most multicultural society, with Muslims, Christians, and Jews trading ideas as much as they crossed swords. Many Muslim and Christian rulers were tolerant of other religions living under their rule and this created a blending of people and cultures that can still be seen today. The Spanish language is filled with Arabic loan words and you can find lots of North African and Jewish recipes in Spanish cuisine.

The Zamora pyxis, an ivory box with a dome-shaped lid that opens and closes with a hinge and a silver clasp with niello detailing. The delicate carving includes arabesques, palmettes, gazelles, peacocks, and other birds that recreate a palace garden. An Arabic inscription in Kufic-style calligraphy on the base of the lid indicates the date of manufacture (353 after Hijra / 964 AD), the artist (Durri al-Salir), the person who commissioned it (Caliph Al-Hakam II) and the recipient (the caliph’s favorite, Subh).
The Zamora pyxis, an ivory box with a dome-shaped lid that opens and closes with a hinge and a silver clasp with niello detailing. The delicate carving includes arabesques, palmettes, gazelles, peacocks, and other birds that recreate a palace garden. An Arabic inscription in Kufic-style calligraphy on the base of the lid indicates the date of manufacture (353 after Hijra / 964 AD), the artist (Durri al-Salir), the person who commissioned it (Caliph Al-Hakam II) and the recipient (the caliph’s favorite, Subh).

The medieval galleries take up an entire floor of the museum and allow the visitor to see Spain’s three medieval cultures develop and mingle over time. A proper visit to the Museo Arqueológico Nacional takes a full day and will keep the interest of anyone who likes art and history.

Casket from the Cathedral of Palencia. The intricate ivory work shows whorled leaves and palmettes, birds, animals, and hunting scenes. An Arabic inscription in Kufic-style calligraphy says it was made in 441 after Hijra (1049-1050 AD) in a workshop in Cuenca, Spain, by 'Abd al-Rahman ben Zayyan for the prince of Toledo.
Casket from the Cathedral of Palencia. The intricate ivory work shows whorled leaves and palmettes, birds, animals, and hunting scenes. An Arabic inscription in Kufic-style calligraphy says it was made in 441 after Hijra (1049-1050 AD) in a workshop in Cuenca, Spain, by ‘Abd al-Rahman ben Zayyan for the prince of Toledo.
Undated column capital showing the Massacre of the Innocents. These detailed carvings are often found on Romanesque churches and will probably be the subject of a future post!
Undated column capital showing the Massacre of the Innocents. These detailed carvings are often found on Romanesque churches and will probably be the subject of a future post!
Undated double column capital showing human figures and basilisks.
Undated double column capital showing human figures and basilisks.

For more on medieval Spain, check out my posts on Spanish castles.

 

Sean McLachlan is a freelance travel and history writer. He is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and the post-apocalyptic thriller Radio Hope. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan.

Memorial plaque of Martín Ferrandes de las Cortinas, 1411. This Gothic brass plaque shows the Martín surrounded by patron saints, Abraham with the soul of the deceased, and musical angels. The inscription includes the names of the deceased, his wife Catalina, and his sons Lope, Juan, and Diego, accompanied by the family coat of arms.
Back wall of a loculus, a niche to hold a body. It dates to the 15th century and comes from the Church of San Esteban, Cuéllar, Segovia. It’s in the Gothic style and shows two knights, father and son. The inscription is Psalm 51.
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