The thirteen articles included in Emperor of Culture address from an interdisciplinary perspective Alfonso X’s place in the culture of late medieval Castile and of western Europe. A successor to his father, Ferdinand Ill’s, cultural policies, Alfonso played a central role in the remarkable artistic achievements of the period. Although his abilities as a ruler may be debatable, his accomplishments and place in medieval culture have never been questioned. This collection furthers our knowledge of the multifaceted cultural activities of Alfonso and his court and provides readers in the English-speaking world with access to a scholarly discourse hitherto restricted to specialists. As the book shows, the activities of Alfonso and his circle of scholars ranged over a wide cultural spectrum: music, scientific and magical lore, troubadour poetry, theatre, exquisite manuscript illuminations, the formation of the Castilian language, historical narrative, and, finally, the compilation of a monumental legal corpus.
After Burns’s introductory essay, O’Callaghan provides an excellent overview of Alfonso’s ambitious program of reforms, showing both his triumphs and failures. Kastens interesting piece shows how the royal scriptorium played a central role in the making of the Castilian language by creating “a very large body of words.” Kosmer and Powers place the illuminations to the Cantigas in the wider context of thirteenth-century art, while Roth argues that the labor of some of Alfonso’s Jewish collaborators included not only translation but the composition of original works. Keller’s Drama, Ritual and Incipient Opera is an ingenious argument for a reading of the illuminations in the Cantigas as a “visualization of drama.” Cárdenas explores the relations between the royal scriptorium and the chancery, while Holloway’s erudite essay links Dante to Alfonso’s court through Brunetto Latini, ambassador to the latter and teacher of the former. Snow focuses on the dual position of Alfonso as king and as troubadour in the Cantigas, while Dyer studies the connections between Alfonsine historiography and literary narratives. Music and the survival into modern times of lyrics from the Cantigas is the topic of Katz’s essay. Craddock surveys Alfonso’s legislative opus. The book concludes with Cárdenas’s short bibliographical essay.
Although many of the articles have marked laudatory tendencies, they provide insights into areas too often neglected or ignored by historians.