Imag[in]ing the East : visualizing the threat of Islam and the desire for the Holy Land in twelfth-century Aquitaine
Epic dichotomies – threat/desire, Islam/Christianity, Orient/Occident, fear/lust, self/other – have fundamentally shaped the conceptualizations, images, and imaginings of the interaction between East and West. The Holy Land was the locus of both sensations in the twelfth-century West. Islam, arisen from the Arabian Peninsula and spreading steadily, embodied the strongest threat to western Christendom that it had yet faced, both militarily and theologically. The vividly imagined “East,” particularly Jerusalem, was the locus of spiritual and material desire. These intertwined notions underlie the ideological, theological, and historical perceptions of the Crusades, in their own time as today. This project seeks to explore the dual image of the East in the twelfth-century West through the prime dichotomy that has, both historically and presently, shaped Western perceptions of the dar-al-Islam: the East as at once threat and object or source of desire. Both this dichotomy and the examinations of individual sites and objects in which it is expressed nuance and challenge earlier scholarly assertions regarding visual representations of Crusading, and posit new interpretations of iconographic traditions and their semiotic functions in the twelfth-century Aquitaine. This dissertation is arranged as a series of investigative essays into monuments and objects that express the presentation and development of these divergent ideas in the twelfth-century Aquitaine. The first half of is comprised of three interrelated examinations of material objects that illuminate Western concepts of Islam and Muslims. Various iconographic traditions, I argue, were created and modified to express the mechanisms by which Christendom attempted to define, and respond to, these evident threats to self and territory. The second half of this project focuses on the material manifestations of desire, primarily through the deployment of Orientalized architectural forms and the utilization of relics and objects related to the East. Although these trends, as my conclusion discusses, reached their true apex in the decades after the loss of Jerusalem in 1187, these early examples typify the range of cultural notions centered on the desire to possess and control the sanctity of the Holy Land.