FELICIANO Maria Judith


            Medieval Islamic Textiles in Iberia and the Mediterranean is a large-scale, multi-disciplinary research program co-organized by a team comprised of two academics, a museum curator, and a conservation scientist. They are art historians Dr. María J. Feliciano, Dr. Laura Rodríguez Peinado, museum curator Dr. Ana Cabrera Lafuente, and Dr. Enrique Parra, conservation scientist.

            The aim of this effort is a comprehensive reevaluation of luxury woven goods from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries through a series of interdisciplinary and scientific studies that, for the first time, will thrust the study of medieval Islamic textiles in Iberia beyond the constraints of formal analysis and geographical borders. We also intend to elucidate the place of al-Andalus’ textile manufacture within Mediterranean economic and commercial histories, as well as in relation to the greater distribution of textiles and raw materials within the Iberian Peninsula, across the Mediterranean, and beyond.

            Another objective is to recognize and explore the multiplicity of Iberian contexts through which the textiles moved and settled, and ultimately, the specificity of their cultural meanings, highlighting the vital role of sumptuous Islamic textiles in the production of medieval Iberian cultural identities. It is a central principle of this effort to look both inside and outside of the Iberian Peninsula (and certainly beyond the Christian and Muslim divide) to refocus the lens through which we study these objects.

            In addition to the greater art historical and ethno-historical objectives outlined above, the research program intends to meet sorely-needed basic needs in the field of Iberian textile studies. Among them, the need to complete and publish an Arabic epigraphic corpus of extant textiles in collections across the United States and Europe; to build an extensive and publicly available database of objects currently housed in museums, church treasuries, and private collections—many of them of very difficult access and rarely ever published—and lastly, a long-overdue reevaluation of nineteenth and early-twentieth century textile collecting practices and their influence upon the field of medieval Iberian studies.

            We also plan to look deep within the objects themselves to open new lines of inquiry. The time is ripe for the integration of state-of-the-art scientific analysis in medieval textile studies. The recent development (2012) of a silk-dating analysis based on CE-MS (Capillary Electrophoresis Mass Spectrometry) at Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, has been the focus of experimentation during the last year of work. DNA sequencing and Stable Isotope Analysis are more accessible and economically viable today than ever. They will aid in comparing the provenance information encoded within the extant objects’ fibers with the historical documentation and, thus, will be an essential element to further elucidate questions of origin, dating, and technical composition.

            In its combination of art historical, historical, linguistic, and scientific analyses, Medieval Islamic Textiles in Iberia and the Mediterranean is poised to transform the way in which we approach medieval material culture of the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. The project and its participants are committed to innovation and the advancement of Islamic epigraphic and textile studies in a pioneering collaborative model. For the first time, scientific analysis, art historical methods, and historical documentation will come together to locate Islamic textiles in Iberian contexts within the greater world of Mediterranean manufacture, trade, and consumption.


2016-17 Brief Progress Report

            The support of the Fondation Max Van Berchem during 2016-2017 has made it possible for us to undertake essential first steps to meet two major goals of our project: (1) the custom design of a database to organize our material for the scholarly bilingual publication (English and Spanish) of the medieval textile epigraphic corpus and (2) the design of a web page (integrated with the database) that will make our research (bibliography, historical documentation, photographic archive, characterization, and epigraphic information) publicly available through a permanent online presence. We have collaborated successfully with Ignacio Fernández and Luis Megino, the web design specialists at Alphabetum (Madrid), and expect to conclude the design process in June 2017.

            We have continued to gain access to unpublished textiles with Arabic epigraphy and have made new epigraphic discoveries through a series of collaborations with institutions and other research projects. Our method has been consistent: we begin with the careful compilation of a micro-history of the textiles with epigraphy in each site followed by a wider inquiry regarding the place of these localized patterns of consumption within the greater history of Iberian and Mediterranean trade. Nineteenth and twentieth-century collecting practices or interventions nearly always emerge as essential pieces of the puzzle as well. We are particularly proud of our partnership with the Cathedral of Roda de Isábena, where we discovered three new inscriptions this year. With the support of the Diocese of Barbastro-Monzón, administrators of Roda de Isábena, we have enjoyed direct access to the textile collection and have had the privilege of going through a trove of archival documentation, from eleventh-century codices to twentieth-century pastoral visit records. For the first time, the medieval textiles from Roda de Isábena have been studied as a corpus in historical context, with a pioneering epigraphic study complementing the first technical/chemical analyses of the woven objects associated with the cult of San Ramón de Roda.[1] It is worth noting that one of the objects in Roda’s collection, the chasuble of San Ramón, has the longest Arabic epigraphic decoration of any extant medieval Iberian textile.

            We are equally proud of our work in the Cathedral of Sigüenza, where we have been carrying out a similarly thorough archival effort.[2] From the records pertaining to the sale of the (twelfth century?) textiles associated with the cult of Santa Librada to pay for the reconstruction of the church tower after the Spanish Civil War to a historical review of the cathedral’s inventories, we are leaving no stone unturned. In the detective-like process of tracing the dispersion of the pieces, we discovered an archival image of the now-lost fragment of linen embroidery (likely an almaizar or humeral veil) that bears the name of Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman (the surviving half is currently at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1977.188). This object is likely the earliest extant textile from an Iberian context and this new epigraphic discovery constitutes an important step in its elucidation.

            Lastly, our collaboration with the research project “The Medieval Treasury across Frontiers and Generations: The Kingdom of León-Castilla in the Context of Muslim-Christian Interchange (c. 1050-1200),”[3] led by Dr. Therese Martin (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid), has given us unparalleled access to the eleventh and twelfth century textiles associated with the royal pantheon of San Isidoro of León as well as others in the Cathedral of León and Museo de León, many of them with unpublished or unknown Arabic inscriptions.[4] The textiles at San Isidoro are unique in the medieval Iberian corpus for their decidedly eastern Mediterranean origin. Our work is currently focused on the relationship between the textiles and the other objects in the treasury, which include a carved Scandinavian reindeer horn box, various Sicilian ivories, Andalusi ivories and metal work (inscribed with Arabic epigraphy), and French enamels and metalwork. Most interestingly, together with a careful epigraphic reading of the objects, we are following the trail of a series of lapidary relics from the Patriarchs of Bethlehem and Jerusalem that may connect the taste for eastern Mediterranean and Persian textiles in León with the legitimizing desires of the Leonese monarchs as Imperator totius Hispaniae in defiance of papal authority.[5]

            We were able to sample silk threads from the textiles in the Colegiata de San Isidoro. We await the results of chemical analyses on dyes and metal threads, but we are thrilled to share that the three samples [Figs. 1-3] submitted for Carbon 14 dating have yielded truly exciting results:[6] the lining of the Arca de San Isidoro, likely of Central Asian manufacture, has revealed an early date of AD 773-968 (with a 71.8% likelihood of a date around AD 773-906) and its lid embroidery has been dated to 878-1013 AD (with a 95.5% of accuracy). The lining of the reliquary of San Marcelo, with its newly-discovered Arabic epigraphic decoration (بركة من الله ), has been dated to AD 968- 1046 (90.3% accuracy). Carbon 14 analyses offer incontrovertible proof of the taste for early Islamic luxury textiles in medieval Iberia. Indeed, these are the earliest-known, extant, Islamic textiles in the Iberian Peninsula. We will be presenting preliminary findings at the conference The Medieval Iberian Treasury in the Context of Muslim-Christian Interchange, which will take place at Princeton University May 19-20, 2017[7]. We will be submitting manuscripts for publication in September 2017.

            Lastly, we have begun to work with the Textile Conservation Department at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (Smithsonian Insitution, New York City), the repository of the large collection of medieval Iberian textiles that J.P. Morgan gifted the Hewitt sisters in 1902[8].A combination of the celebrated Miquel i Badía (Barcelona) and Vives (Madrid) collections, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum houses some of the finest medieval Iberian textiles. On May 22-23, Drs. Feliciano and Cabrera will be visiting the museum’s storage unit to examine the pieces, exchange information, and aid in the documentation of the objects.


Feliciano lining 1Fig. 1. Lining from the reliquary of San Isidoro. Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, León. Photo: Therese Martin


Feliciano lid 2

Fig. 2. Embroidery, lid of reliquary of San Isidoro. Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, León. Photo: Therese Martin


Feliciano lining 3

Fig. 3. Lining of the reliquary of San Marcelo. Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, León. Photo: Therese Martin.


[1] Ana Cabrera, María Judith Feliciano, Enrique Parra, “Medieval Iberian Relics and their Woven Vessels: The Case of San Ramón del Monte (†1126) Roda de Isábena Cathedral (Huesca, Aragón)” in Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion, forthcoming 2017.

[2] In collaboration with Dr. Laura Rodríguez Peinado’s project Las Manufacturas Textiles Andalusíes: Caracterización y Estudio Interdisciplinar funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy Research, Development and Innovation Grant, HAR2014-54918-P.

[3] National Excellence in Research Grant, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitivity, HAR2015-68614-P

[4] See announcement in El Diario de León;

[5] We will be presenting our preliminary findings at conference The Medieval Iberian Treasury in the Context of Muslim-Christian Interchange, which will take place at Princeton University 19-20 May, 2017. 

[6] All characterization and dating analyses has been underwritten by Dr. Rodríguez Peinado’s research grant, mentioned above, as well as in collaboration with Dr. Cabrera’s Marie S.Curie project Interwoven (No. 703711), which seeks to document the medieval textiles from Iberia and Sicily acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum during the first century of its foundation. The textiles with inscriptions studied by Dr. Cabrera will be added to our epigraphic corpus and all the technical information will be used to enhace our object files


[8] The gift also included the Stanislas Baron collection.