Relectura del Color Rojo: la Alegoría en la Vita Christi de Isabel de Villena

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Most critics have recognized the importance of Villena’s contribution to a literary world dominated by male authors but have emphasised its quintessentially feminine quality. This chapter argues that Villena’s interest in allegorical garments is not evidence of her feminine interest in clothes but that the red tunic with its embroidered decorative features, presented to the Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, is present in male religious poetry. The chapter then tracks a Christian tradition of allegorical garments, examining their antecedents in biblical interpretation. It goes on to source a tendency to present the Virgin in fashionable clothes in male-dominated religious art. Villena could have chosen red because retables in Valencia consistently choose red for the Virgin’s tunic [Joan Reixach (1411-1484) and Pere Nicolau (1390- 1408)]. Red was the most costly and rare of colours in medieval textiles, used for nuptial garments, as shown in the retable of Bonifaci Ferrer (Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia) and could mark the association of the Virgin with the bride of the Song of Songs. Red denotes the infusion of grace both at the Incarnation and at the Immaculate Conception, emphasizing the presence of the Spirit. Red was associated with blood, and this was the female contribution to procreation in medieval understanding. The Virgin, associated with blood, becomes a vessel for the wine/blood of the Eucharist. The chapter then argues that far from longing for fashionable clothes and colours from the past, Villena had a wealth of colours around her in the convent. Liturgical vestments were embroidered there, meaning that Villena had access to the best brocades and silks in exquisite colours, including red. All these layers of interpretation of the colour underlie ‘simple allegory’, showing Villena had intentions beyond entertaining her nuns with a courtly story.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLas Metamorfosis de la alegoría: discurso y sociedad en la Península Ibérica desde la Edad Media hasta la edad contemporánea
Place of PublicationMadrid
Number of pages363
ISBN (Print)8484891984
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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