The Research Group “Literature, Art and Representation in the Middle Ages” (LAIREM, 2009 SGR 258) is a team of researchers in the fields of Art History (Eduardo Carrero and Daniel Rico), Musicology (Maricarmen Gómez Muntané), Medieval History (Almudena Blasco), Romance Philology (Costanzo Di Girolamo, Chiara Cappuccio), Catalan Philology (Anton Espadaler, Lenke Kovács, Francesc Massip, Donatella Siviero), Galaico-Portuguese Philology (Camilo Fernández), Basque Philology (Patrizio Urkizu), Spanish Philology (Rebeca Sanmartín), and Theatrical Performance (Sandra Pietrini, Oscar A. García), who specialize in the Mediterranean (Italo-Iberian) cultures of the Middle Ages and in the manifestations of those cultures in Latin America.
Our goal is to investigate the interconnections among literary texts, the iconography that often illustrates these texts in manuscripts, the expectation of theatrical representation inherent in the interpretive conventions that still endure in our day and age, the music that usually accompanied these widely-popularized texts, and the space in which the public performance was carried out.
The approach to the study of the Middle Ages from the traditional disciplinary compartmentalization has proven to be less effective than the adoption of a transversal perspective. The interdisciplinary methodology we pursue encompasses those dimensions of the artistic phenomenon (literary, plastic, architectural, musical, and spectacular) that would otherwise remain obfuscated or altogether unnoticed. We aim at what Umberto Eco calls «a plain and sympathetic understanding of the medieval penchant for the trans-rational and for indirect signification» (Umberto Eco, Arte e belleza nell’estecica medievale, Milano, Bompiani, 1987) [The translation is ours.]
In the medieval period the literary text is often polyvalent (cf. Paul Zumthor, La Lettre et la Voix, 1987) and offers a wide margin of creative freedom for adapters and performers. The text could be read, declaimed, recited as a dialogue, even interpreted or represented in various scenes, depending on the occasion (festive, liturgical, commemorative, and the likes) and the immediate conditions that marked the event, such as the technical equipment and the personnel available at a particular time and place. Our research group considers medieval texts in their fundamentally performative nature. Indeed, the popularization or “publication” of the literary subject took effect as a ‘staging’ in front of an audience that more often than not did not have any other means of accessing the content of these texts. In a society that, not only in medieval times but at least until the industrial revolution, depended to a great extent on oral communication, the transmission of the subject matter was carried out mainly viva voce, whereas silent reading was restricted to a literate elite. The public dimension of the reception of that subject matter attests to the implicit presence of performative factors that, as a rule, affected the way in which the texts were conceived in the first place.
With regard to the plastic image, we take into account the importance of the visual impact on medieval societies (cf. Jean Duvignaud Sociologie du théâtre, 1965). In the Middle Ages, art is prone to resorting to figurative ambiguity in order to convey a particular semantic intention. The medieval figural and universalistic way of thinking, rooted in the Christian faith, can be grasped in its full dimension only if we relate the literary texts to the images that accompany them or, likewise, if we relate the images to the accompanying texts.