On Absences

The Erasure of Black Women in the Cantigas de Santa María (Biblioteca de El Escorial MS T.I.1 and Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze B.R.20)


  • Eileen Patricia McKiernan González Berea College


The Escorial and Florentine Cantigas de Santa María (Esc. Ms. T.I.1 and B.R.20), lavishly illuminated 13th century miracle cycles of 427 miracles and songs of praise, include 42 miracles associated with Muslims.  The representations of the Muslim community depict scenes of conversion and punishment to those who would do harm to the Eucharist, Marian images, churches, and Christian peoples.  Muslims are also represented in times of war as leaders, victims, persecutors, and as members of a multi-ethnic community.  Within these representations, Muslim men appear of two broad variants, light-skinned turbaned figures with long robes (indistinguishable beyond these markers) and dark-skinned, curly haired figures with shorter robes.  The caricaturing of the faces of dark-skinned Muslim figures, rounder heads, fuller red lips, curly hair, fall into the “Ethiopian” types of the era.  Both of these peoples appear in armies (as leaders, infantrymen, sailors, and cavalry) and as servants.  Muslim women, like Jewish women, are not distinguishable to a great degree by clothing or physiognomy.  Muslim women appear as wives and mothers, compliant with their husbands, defiant only in conversion in order to save their child.  Dark-skinned women are not present in the Cantigas.  This paper considers the complete absence of black female bodies in the representation of multifaith and multiracial communities in the Cantigas de Santa María.