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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alfonso's Last Book

The pictures in my site banner actually come from a single miniature in the Libro de ajedrez, dados y tablas from the workshop of Alfonso X, el Sabio. On the left, scholars have every reason to believe it's Alfonso himself. On the right, his queen, Violante de Aragón. How will I ever change it? What pictures could be better than that most scholarly of medieval kings and his mysterious wife?

In the original picture, the part now covered by my name and the blog topics shows a chess board oriented so that the viewer can see exactly where the pieces are located, so as to predict what would be the best next move. I love the picture not only because I love most pictures of Alfonso, but also because it shows him spending some pleasant time with Violante. Not knowing what their relationship was like at all has caused me more than a little scholarly anxiety. Violante bore him eleven children, so there must have been something there, but there are scant mentions of her in history, and most of them have to do with the time the couple spent apart because of disagreements on succession. The single clue to their possible happy relationship comes from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, when the King wakes from a dream and turns to the Queen in bed beside him to tell her about it, only to find that she's dreamed the same thing. Psychically connected!

Scholars believe the Libro de ajedrez is the last book Alfonso commissioned because, among other evidence, it focuses on games ill or old people could take part in. Find some more basic information about the Libro de ajedrez and a few illustrations here. (As with any Wikipedia article, consider it a jumping off point.)

The internet is at its best when a lonely Spain freak like me can find another person with similar interests. And this week, the internet has been at its best! Join me on Monday for a truly interesting interview with Lilian Gafni, a writer who grew up speaking Ladino and became fascinated with the Alhambra decree of 1492.