The Christian Ceiling And Its History

by THAT Painter Lady

Moorish Ceiling Design
photo credit: E.L. Malvaney

The origin of the beamed ceiling, popular in the south and almost universal in the north of Spain, is not so easy to trace.

Some claim it to be European, others Asiatic.

As the simplest means of constructing a shelter the beamed covering was applied in ancient Asia; and for the same reason it must have been practiced in harsh northern climates quite independently of Asiatic contact—that is if we accredit to our European forefathers ordinary intelligence and skill in the solution of a universal problem.

The antiquity claimed for certain Asturian and Leonese churches by Spanish investigators is flatly denied by French archaeologists, always excepting Marcel Dieulafoy; but even granting that these examples, instead of being original ninth- or tenth-century structures are eleventh- or twelfth-century remodeling, the fact still remains that they probably hark back to Visigothic prototypes.

Therefore the wooden ceilings that cover several of them, San Julidn de los Prados, in Oviedo, for example, may be taken as a continuance of the traditional roofing of the Visigothic basilica as it once existed in Me’rida or Seville. Hence our designation of this form as Christian for, though used by the Moors also, it is specially associated with Christian edifices in the northern part of Spain where it received its peculiar ornamental cachet.

Some of these beamed ceilings were decorated in that oriental manner which is generally loosely classified as Byzantine, but which in this case had much more direct connection with Asia. From the first the monasteries in question beganeagerly to acquire all the Saracenic art they could get—silks and other woven fabrics, ivories, gold and silver vessels, enamels.

That the patterns of the woven fabrics and carved ivories served as inspiration to the decorators is easy to trace; also the fact that the decorators were, in early days at least, frequently Moors. Moorish miniaturists illuminated the manuscripts; Moorish masons—slaves—are said to have built the cloister of Silos (eleventh century), the most beautiful of the Romanesque period in Europe. It appears safe to assume, therefore, that where a monastery wanted a ceiling painted, both the design and the one who carried it out were Moorish.

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