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Putting the Cantigas in Context: tracing the sources of Alfonso X’s Cantigas de Santa Maria

Putting the Cantigas in Context: tracing the sources of Alfonso X’s Cantigas de Santa Maria

By Stephen Parkinson and Deirdre Jackson

Paper given at the International Congress on Medieval Studies (2005)

Introduction: The Cantigas de Santa Maria, commissioned by Alfonso el sabio, is a large collection by any standards: 420 poems, made up of 357 miracle narratives and 63 loores and festas. It would be a mistake to assume, as many seem to, that the size of the corpus is the only complicated thing about it, and that behind the CSM is a simple process in which the King or his collaborators composed poems on the basis of known miracle stories and then set them to music and illustrated them.

The project we are working on makes a distinction between three phases of activity — collection, composition, and compilation – to show that the individual cantigas, and the textual, musical and iconographic material accompanying them, are the product of the interaction of different activities at these three phases. Collection is the phase in which the basic subject matter of a narrative cantiga is procured. Composition is the stage of creating the poetic narrative, and the accompanying pictorial narrative and musical support. Finally, compilation is the process of assembling these narratives on the manuscript page and in the manuscript collection.

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