Course Highlight: ART 431 “Living with Others: Art, Culture, and Identity in Medieval Spain”

March 30, 2023

ART 431, “Living with Others: Art, Culture, and Identity in Medieval Spain,” taught by Pamela Patton, who also directs the Index of Medieval Art, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to discuss works made by the medieval Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula with Dr. Julia Perratore, Assistant Curator of Medieval Art. In addition to visiting the galleries, the class was invited to the library of the Medieval department, where Dr. Perratore brought out two related objects for closer study: eleventh-century, Christian-made metalwork panels that incorporated spolia (reused materials) from the Byzantine, Islamic, and earlier medieval spheres.

Ornamented metal plaque

Photo/Pamela Patton

“It is always an incredibly exciting opportunity to meet one of the Met curators and get a peek behind the scenes of a museum, to be able to observe objects firsthand and be immersed in the object itself,” said A&A graduate student Fatih Han. “Only through firsthand observations can the objects talk for themselves and we as viewers can listen and understand.”

Undergraduate student Lilli Duberstein echoed Han’s enthusiasm. “As a New Yorker who literally learned to walk in the Met, it was so meaningful to go behind the scenes of the museum and learn from the experts,” she said.

Objects that were of particular interest to Duberstein were two 10th-11th century gilt-and-ivory plaques from the kingdom of Aragon, in modern Spain “We got to examine the Felicia plaques out of the case up close, all discussing the possible origins and meaning of the pieces. Being able to feel like we were part of the scholarly discussion was so exhilarating,” she said.

Students around a large table on which are laid two metal plaques

Photo/Pamela Patton

A&A graduate student Jenica Brown explained “Thanks to the inscription, these objects are attributed to the patronage of Queen Felicia of Aragon, however, one of them features an earlier Byzantine ivory crucifixion and a stone with an Arabic inscription, pointing to Aragon’s interregional contacts. The plaques are usually on display but were recently removed for conservation, so we got to examine them closely!”

“The opportunity to study these composite works at close range, under the guidance of an expert, was a highlight of our semester,” said Patton.