(active 1250-1300 in Castile)

Cantigas de Alfonso el Sabio

Manuscript (Ms. T.j.1), 486 x 332 mm
Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Alfonso the Wise's reign (1252-1284) saw an unprecedented blossoming of the scientific and cultural life of Castile and León. Alfonso gathered the finest Christian, Arab and Jewish scholars, poets and historians to his court. he was not just a great patron, but also an author and poet. By contrast with the manuscripts illuminated at the French court during this period, there are no biblical or liturgical texts among Alfonso's books. The Cantigas is a collection of Marian hymns and miracle songs. Some of the canticles were collected by Alfonso, but most were written by him in Galician-Portuguese. The Cantigas are regarded as the most important lyrical work of the Spanish Middle Ages.

The manuscript illustrates each canticle with one or sometimes two full-page miniatures made up of six or eight bordered pictures - amounting to over 1800 masterfully composed illustrations. Folio 140r shows illustrations to Canticle CXL, which - exceptionally - feature no writing and no explanatory text. The two pictures in the upper register show the royal collector and author surrounded by senior clergymen. The two scenes in the middle register depict the Annunciation and the Assumption. In the lower register the Crucifix and a party attended by a demon are depicted.