In the Middle Ages, while in al-Andalus art
was strongly influenced by the Islamic East and North Africa, the Catholic
kingdoms to the North of the Iberian Peninsula enjoyed distinct artistic trends
even if they were somewhat inspired by the work of the European Christian
kingdoms and al-Andalus.
Among the treasures, which belonged to the
churches, monasteries, abbeys and convents of the northern Christian kingdoms,
we can find liturgical objects created by both Christians and Mozarabs as well
as those obviously originating from Andalusia.
Such is the case with numerous caskets and reliquaries used in the monasteries
but made in the workshops of Andalusia.
As the inscription on the base of the
chalice states, it was ordered by Saint Dominic himself in honour of Saint
Sebastian, the patron saint of the monastery. It was probably made in the
goldsmith’s workshops of the abbey and dates from between 1040 – 1073, the
period, during which Domingo Manso was abbot.
This chalice, which is one of the largest
remaining on the Peninsula, was destined for
the distribution of holy wine to the congregation. One of the most striking
details of its decoration are the Islamic inspired horseshoe arches, which
encircle the cup. According to Antonio Garcia Flores’ description,
it is “made up of a semi-spherical cup
and base joined by a stem, which is decorated with a large, spherical knot. It
is practically entirely covered by decoration in filigree, which comprises of
horseshoe arches mounted on columns around the base and the cup, framed above
and below by friezes. Around the knot, the decoration is simply composed of a
succession of horizontal bands”. The filigree work also includes geometric
forms, floral motifs and even imitation epigraphic script: “this is found in chains within the upper and
lower bands of the cup, in simple parabolas in the lower frieze of the base and
interlaced around the knot. Schematic leaf designs can be observed in the
openings of the arches around the base as well as around the double bars with
rolled extremities similar to column capitals or forming spirals imitating
Kufic characters on the cup and the base”. Calligraphy, which was an important motif in Islamic decoration,
certainly influenced the western artists of the Middle Ages. Master Alpais’
ciborium is another well-known example of a Christian liturgical object using
pseudo-kufic script in a purely decorative fashion.