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The Medieval Salento

The Medieval Salento: Art and Identity in Southern Italy

Linda Safran
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    The Medieval Salento
    Book Description:

    Located in the heel of the Italian boot, the Salento region was home to a diverse population between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. Inhabitants spoke Latin, Greek, and various vernaculars, and their houses of worship served sizable congregations of Jews as well as Roman-rite and Orthodox Christians. Yet the Salentines of this period laid claim to a definable local identity that transcended linguistic and religious boundaries. The evidence of their collective culture is embedded in the traces they left behind: wall paintings and inscriptions, graffiti, carved ­­tombstone decorations, belt fittings from graves, and other artifacts reveal a wide range of religious, civic, and domestic practices that helped inhabitants construct and maintain personal, group, and regional identities.The Medieval Salentoallows the reader to explore the visual and material culture of a people using a database of over three hundred texts and images, indexed by site. Linda Safran draws from art history, archaeology, anthropology, and ethnohistory to reconstruct medieval Salentine customs of naming, language, appearance, and status. She pays particular attention to Jewish and nonelite residents, whose lives in southern Italy have historically received little scholarly attention. This extraordinarily detailed visual analysis reveals how ethnic and religious identities can remain distinct even as they mingle to become a regional culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0891-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Note
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In this book I explore the visual and material culture of people who lived and died in a particular region of Italy in the Middle Ages. I investigate their names, the languages they used in public, how they were represented (and how they actually may have looked), and what components of status seem to have been important to them. I then reconstruct some of the rituals that accompanied local residents throughout their life cycles and during their worship, their daily lives, and their calendar year, focusing on those practices that can be extrapolated from visual evidence. By combining analytical methods...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Names
    (pp. 17-37)

    Ever since Adam named the animals in Genesis 2:20, humans have given things—and people—names. Names, and the kinship relationships expressed through them, are among the most essential and universal components of identity. Personal names and surnames connect people with ancestors, places of origin, social and religious communities, and larger cultural groups, and thus contribute to the formation of both individual and communal identity. They have a taxonomic function, suggesting things—rightly or wrongly—about their bearer’s religious, social, cultural affiliation. Some names confer power by linking an individual, even superficially, with an important family (e.g., the Kennedys, the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Languages
    (pp. 38-57)

    One of the most important lessons to be learned from examining linguistic choices is that language, like names, is not a secure indicator of cultural or ethnic background. Speaking, reading, writing, and commissioning texts are learned behaviors whose use is socially determined. As numerous sociolinguistic studies have shown, different languages might be appropriate in different situations, and a person might have many reasons to commission or execute a text that was not in his or her ancestral tongue. In the medieval Salento, the relevant languages of inscription were Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; Aramaic, Old French, and pseudo-Kufic script also make...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Appearance
    (pp. 58-90)

    It is often said that “clothes make the man,” and appearance is indeed the most obvious signal of identity.¹ Before names are exchanged and languages employed in spoken discourse, impressions have already been formed on the basis of appearance.² Instinctively, and not always correctly, we interpret such cues as physiognomy, dress, and jewelry in order to categorize and judge others according to gender, status, and even religious or cultural or ethnic affiliation. The elements of appearance thus communicate social identities in a nonverbal manner.³ Yet because the meanings and relative importance of the components of appearance vary according to context,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Status
    (pp. 91-117)

    “Status” refers to an individual’s position in relation to others, especially his or her social standing within and between groups, and relative status is a major factor in interpersonal behavior. Like other aspects of identity, one’s status is imputed by others and interpreted according to subjective cultural categories. It generates expectations that can range from respect and admiration to contempt. A higher position in the social hierarchy, manifested in manifold ways within different social frameworks, is sought not just by humans but also by many kinds of animals (not only primates), which suggests that the pursuit of status may be...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Life Cycle
    (pp. 118-139)

    In the preceding chapters I have hewed close to the Database to assess how individual and communal identity was communicated visually, textually, and/or spatially through names, languages, appearance, and status. In the second half of the book I continue to explore the question of Salentine identity by reconstructing what the “painted people” actually did and, through their actions, some of their beliefs. Obviously, a medievalist’s ability to recover actions and beliefs can only be partial and fragmentary; the region lacks the kind of detailed archival information that historians working in other places have mined so successfully. While the Database remains...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Rituals and Other Practices in Places of Worship
    (pp. 140-175)

    In the Middle Ages, houses of worship were social spaces par excellence, sites of human interaction as well as places to effect or maintain positive relationships between humans and God. I begin with church and synagogue liturgies and their settings, focusing on the evidence for specifically Salentine variants in both the weekly prayers and those for holidays and special events. I turn next to the considerable evidence for devotion, considering which saints and narrative images adorned church walls, how local worshippers interacted with painted images, and where and why they incised personal graffiti. Once again, the goal of my inquiry...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Rituals and Practices at Home and in the Community
    (pp. 176-208)

    Beyond the rituals associated with the life cycle and places of worship, people in the medieval Salento regularly performed other activities in their communities and homes. Taking as a point of entry words, images, and artifacts included or alluded to in the Database of texts and images, I consider in this chapter rituals and practices that were specific to the Salento. I begin with those repeated public activities that are connected to the seasons of the year and the calendar, in which many agricultural activities, processions, and fairs were linked to specific saints’ days. Many of these began or culminated...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Theorizing Salentine Identity
    (pp. 209-238)

    Ask an Italian where he is from and the response will be the name of a province—“sono Pugliese,” “Toscana”—except in the case of the largest cities (“Milanese,” “sono Romana”). As a highly mobile North American, I am perpetually astonished by my Italian acquaintances’ enduring connection to the land. Many who have worked outside of Apulia and even outside Italy tell me that they longed to establish their families not far from where they themselves were raised; they were willing to leave their familiar terrain only temporarily. In today’s Salento there is a clear sense of regional belonging, encouraged...

  13. Database: Sites in the Salento with Texts and Images Informative About Identity
    (pp. 239-336)

    The Introduction (pages 15–16) discusses the criteria for inclusion in the Database. Sites are arranged and numbered alphabetically, with the name of each city, town, or village followed by its modern Italian province in parentheses and by the name of the specific structure or kind of work within each site. If the work can be dated, this appears in boldface type. This is followed by measurements or other specific details.

    Every relevant inscription or image within that site is identified; if there are several, they are labeled with capital letters (A, B, C, and so on). Each inscription is...

  14. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 337-396)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 397-456)
  17. Index
    (pp. 457-466)
  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 467-469)