Imagine for a moment that you are Mudarra González. You’ve just come of age, having been raised in tenth-century Medina Azahara among splendor the world hasn’t seen for a thousand years. You’ve met Christian travelers before, but they all seemed kind of dumb to you because they walk your palace city with mouths agape. Now you’re traveling in Christian lands, having to interact intimately with Christians for the first time, and a woman who claims to be your new mother takes you across an icy bridge to a small stone chapel, the likes of which you never imagined you’d see inside.
It’s as dark as night, with only a few candles before the altars and tiny windows letting the smallest bit of winter light in. A priest comes from some dark corner to greet your “mother” briefly before drawing back a curtain.
In the gloom, you can make out the shapes of a painting very much like this one:
I went to the local art museum this weekend. The place is impressive in the context of this area, and only makes sense when you consider that it was established during the city’s industrial heyday. It holds remarkable treasures from every corner of the globe. Of course, I’m partial to the medieval galleries. They even transported a chapter house and reassembled it just off the main atrium, complete with medieval stained glass windows. (My fondest hope is to make a presentation of Seven Noble Knights in that setting once it’s published.)
The painting above resides in the darkest gallery in the building. When I came upon it, I felt as if I had been transported into my own novel!
It’s a Catalan altar frontal from the late eleventh century (about 100 years in the future of Seven Noble Knights). It shows the ascension of Jesus, while in Seven Noble Knights I had imagined a dynamic portrait of a "Moor-slaying" saint. But the colors, the cartoonish outlines, and the presence of crosses and gesturing hands are exactly what I had in mind. Mudarra finds the red and yellow garish, but I recognize these shades as the favorites in northern Spain for hundreds of years. The serious expressions and outstretched hands are the dramatic expressions of a visual story, meant to instruct anyone, whether or not they could read, whether or not they’d had previous instruction.
I wanted to take this piece of art with me because it accomplishes in an instant what I’m attempting to do with more than 100,000 words: it brings anyone who sees it close enough to my characters to imagine themselves in their shoes.