Maeve O’Donnell, PhD candidate, Courtauld Institute of Art, reports on her travels sponsored by this scholarship
The ARTES Coll y Cortes Travel Scholarship allowed me to complete archival research central to my doctoral thesis. Textual sources have been indispensable to my investigation into thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Castilian altars because many of these altars and their furnishings have been lost or disassembled. By carefully combing through primary sources — many of which have not been published in full and are hidden away in cathedral archives — I have been able to reconstruct a detailed picture of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century altar from this kingdom. Inventories, wills, receipts, statutes, and letters both describe the objects that made up the altar at this time and point to its various usages. More than a liturgical focal point, altars were sites for the expression of the surrounding communities’ identities. This identity was reflected, for instance, by personal items bequeathed to the altar or through furnishings ornamented with political or royal symbols.
In early 2015, I spent several weeks in the archives of Burgos and Toledo cathedrals. Although I was able to find useful primary documents at these sites, my thesis would not have properly represented Castilian medieval art without close investigation into Seville cathedral’s thirteenth- and fourteenth-century altars. The ARTES Coll y Cortes Travel Scholarship allowed me to spend three weeks researching in the archive of Seville cathedral. It was especially useful to spend time looking through early modern collections of cathedral statutes in which medieval regulations are cited. The Estatutos y Constituciones de la Santa Iglesia de Sevilla, for instance, contained notes in its margins that identified the medieval sources of some of its entries. Viewing this source firsthand has allowed me to engage more critically with its usage in current scholarship. It was similarly of value to my project to read through a late fourteenth-century set of regulations for the cathedral’s original royal chapel, which described the ceremonies performed around the altar of this important royal tomb. It was also very instructive to conduct this archival research while regularly visiting the cathedral’s works of art. For instance, a striking reliquary cross in the cathedral’s collection has often been connected to documents in the archive that seem to allude to it. Reading through such documents and then visiting the work in person allowed me to appreciate the problems set forth by these textual sources.
Without the help of this travel scholarship, my dissertation would have been limited to northern and central Castile and would have fallen short of capturing the full range of cultural and artistic transformations taking place in this kingdom during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By comparing extant objects with contemporary descriptions found in documents from the archive of Seville cathedral, my PhD project will provide a comprehensive picture of the medieval Castilian altar and its furnishings so far missing in scholarship on medieval Iberian art.