Abigail Balbale will give a Work-in-Progress talk on Thursday, April 12, at 12:15 pm. Her talk is entitled “Gold, Islam, and the Spanish ‘Reconquista.’”

In the sixteenth-century Iberian Peninsula, Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity, known as Moriscos, were famously skilled as silver- and goldsmiths, and produced jewelry, reliquaries and other luxury objects for old Christian patrons. Moriscos’ work frequently found homes in royal and cathedral treasuries, and their expert craftsmanship was so closely associated with the formerly Muslim-ruled territories of southern Spain that jewelers of northern, old Christian background boasted of their training in Andalusia. And yet, the association of Moriscos with gold was not wholly positive. The Ordinances of Granada from 1529 claimed that the goldsmiths of that city used debased gold, and that their bracelets were often made hollow and filled with chalk or mastic to make them appear heavier. Thus, just as the Moriscos were suspected by their old Christian overlords of perfidious adherence to Islam even as they professed to be Christians, their jewelry looked fine and heavy through treacherous guile. Later accounts of the expulsion of the Moriscos continued the association of Islam, gold and deceit, claiming that the Moriscos sold counterfeit currency for good before their departure, and that they also left with innumerable treasures taken from faithful Christians and from churches. This paper examines four gold objects associated with Islam, from the twelfth through sixteenth centuries, in order to explore the multiple valences of the material in late medieval and early modern Spain. Alongside written sources that fixate on the treachery, beauty, luxury and appeal of “Moorish” gold, these objects reveal the complex social dynamics among old and new Christians. They also show how Spanish elites frequently used gold objects associated with Islam to assert their own nobility and Spanishness, even as they sought to limit their circulation among poorer classes and to expel the Moriscos themselves.

Abigail Balbale is an Assistant Professor at Bard Graduate Center. Her research focuses on the intersection of political power, religious ideology and visual and material culture in the medieval Islamic world.