Castilian monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos
Meyer Schapiro in Silos: pursuing an iconography of style.
The great interest of the Marxist approach lies not only in the attempt to interpret historically changing relations of art and economic life in the light of a general theory of society but also in the weight given to the differences and conflicts within the social group as motors of development, and to the effects of these on outlook, religion, morality, and philosophical ideas.--Meyer Schapiro, "Style" (1953) (1)In 1939, some fourteen years before Meyer Schapiro thus characterized the Marxist approach to the history of art in his famous essay on style, he had himself provided a showpiece of a Marxist approach in an article in this journal. (2) "From Mozarabic to Romanesque in Silos" was devoted to the cloister sculpture and manuscript illumination of the Castilian monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos. Schapiro arrayed a vast number of wide-ranging references to buttress an argument linking the art of the Castilian monastery of Silos to the social and political complexion of the place. Schapiro's article was impressive not only for the radical nature of the argument but also for its energy and erudition, its style. It was long: sixty-two pages distributed about equally between main text and footnotes. Some of the 223 footnotes provided what amounted to encyclopedic articles on such topics as demonology and Spanish economic history. Schapiro began by remarking on the need to consider stylistic influence not as something inevitable, but as possible only if social conditions are right for reception. Silos provided a test case, for "In the great monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, especially, we can follow the emergence of the new style, because both Mozarabic and Romanesque styles were practiced in the abbey at the same moment.... and in the light of documents of the time, it is possible to see how new conditions in the church and the secular world led to new conceptions of the traditional themes or suggested entirely new subjects." (3) Four decades later one eminent scholar of the field hailed it as "the most profound piece of writing on Romanesque art by anyone to this day," (4) and another concluded, "There are few texts on medieval sculpture and painting which could stand up to the [article's] complexity of ideas and insights." (5) Another article published by Schapiro in 1939, on the sculpture of Souillac, (6) where a comparable approach was employed, has been recently eulogized as a guide for today's art historians. (7) While many sites might have provided the chance "to interpret historically changing relations of art and economic life in the light of a general theory of society," Schapiro found Silos unusual in that "at the end of the eleventh century we find two distinct and in many ways, opposed styles in Silos.... The practice of these two styles in the same monastery was not simply a matter of two stages of development carried by overlapping generations." (8) One style belonged to the copy of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liebana written and decorated at Silos (Figs. 1, 12, 15, 20). (9) The other informed the extraordinary collection of cloister sculpture, but more particularly the large plaques with New Testament subjects on its corner piers (Figs. 2, 21 ). The text of the richly illustrated manuscript was completed by monks at Silos in 1091, as we know from prolix colophons presented below. Its illustrations were provided by another local monk in 1109 in a style called Mozarabic, that is, the style associated with the Islamicized culture of Mozarab Christians, those living under or culturally influenced by Muslims. The tenth century witnessed the heyday of this style. In contrast, the sculpture exhibited an up-to-date Romanesque style, which Schapiro dated to the end of the eleventh century, thus contemporaneous with the illustration of the Beatus Commentary. For most art historians of his day the presence of atypical styles would have prompted a search for analogues elsewhere in order to chart sources of influence. In Schapiro's article it inspired a search for a social explanation. The more abstract, hieratic, frozen, and outdated Mozarabic style of the manuscript was held by him to be expressive of a parochial monastic class dominated by fixed ecclesiastical rules. (10) It had been deliberately chosen to render homage to tradition and express opposition to change. The more realistic Romanesque style of the sculpture, in contrast, was the product of "lay artisanship of a high technical order." (11) Schapiro judged the style to be local, not imported, and linked to a new Castile of growing trade, urbanization, and a nascent popular culture that promoted secular values and challenged ecclesiastical domination. (12) [FIGURES 1-2, 12, 15, 20-21 OMITTED] Schapiro offered his examination with the acknowledgment, "A more comprehensive study might lead us to change the conclusions; but it would have to follow the method employed here, the critical correlation of the forms a...