In 2021 I was awarded an ARTES-CEEH Travel Scholarship for the project “My darling, fly thou: New iconography of the Song of Songs in Iberian medieval sculpture”. Unfortunately, Covid forced me to delay my research and I was unable to pursue my work until this Autumn. In fact, I am currently at the British Library writing this report, surrounded by books dedicated to the medieval exegesis of the Song of Songs while a 700-year-old Bible with exquisite illumination awaits me at the Manuscripts Room, only a few meters from where I am now.
I came to London with a hypothesis that I wanted to tackle, that is, that a group of Romanesque sculptures in Asturias and Zamora (Spain) with embracing knights and ladies could be interpreted as a representation of the Song of Songs, one of the books of the Bible that was most heavily commented on during the Middle Ages. To strengthen this hypothesis, I had another group of sculptures of victorious knights being saluted by ladies that are believed to represent Psalm 45 (Vg.44), a passage deeply related to Solomon’s Song. Both the Song of Songs, written by king Solomon, and Psalm 44, written by king David, were interpreted by medieval exegetes such as Saint Augustin or Venerable Bede as the marriage of Christ with his followers or the marriage of Christ and Church. The iconographical epitome of this symbolic wedding is the Coronation of the Virgin, a theme that would become very popular in 12th– and 13th-century Europe.
During my stay in London, I had access to the extensive collection of books held at the British Library, the Warburg Library, and the Senate House Library. Through research I was able to strengthen my hypothesis and find arguments to support my claim that the kiss carved in stone on the portal of San Pedro de Villanueva (Asturias) is a representation of the first verse of the Song of Songs “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth” (Cant. 1:1). I was also able to study first-hand the Bible of William of Hales (MS. Royal 1 B XII), which has not yet been digitized by the British Library and has a representation of the Kiss between Christ and the Church. Furthermore, the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database allowed me to compare different representations of the Song of Songs in the history of art and I arrived at the conclusion that the carvings of knights and ladies embracing found in Villanueva, Narzana, Villamayor, Sograndio, Oviedo, Benavente, and Toro constitute an iconography partitcular to that part of Iberia. In the next days, I am planning to visit the Conway and Witt Image Libraries at the Courtauld hoping to deepen my research.
Finally, I look forward to next week, when I have been invited to present my work at the Courtauld Institute of Art where I will be giving the talk “So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty”: on the sculptures of knight and ladies at Santa María la Mayor de Toro (Zamora). I am hugely grateful to ARTES and the CEEH for making this opportunity possible!