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This Is the Story of a Hat (and a Shield)


This is the history of a hat, but not of any kind of hat. This hat is above the shield of one of the most powerful men in early modern Castile, Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros. He strikes me as somebody with enormous intellectual, religious, and political ambitions, capable of meeting them all thanks to enormous willpower and ability. Why are his hat and shield on the cover of an edition of Ramon Llull printed in València? Why did he owned four Lullist manuscripts that had his hat and shield engraved in gold over their rich bindings? (Also: if you think this post is better than the previous ones, that may be because the chairs at Marqués de Valdecilla are substantially more comfortable than at Recoletos. If you think the contrary, the only possible answer is that worse chairs make for better writing.)

Cover of Ars Inventiva Veritatis, Ed. Pacs & Proaza (1515)

“esos tus quadros cisneros,/siete vi con sangre escritos”

This quotation comes from the very first page of Baltasar Porreño’s biography of the cardinal. In it, he describes the shield of the cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros (1436-1517) as a source of ancestral pride for the cardinal coming from his lineage and also as a visual display of power. A vestige from the past, the shield performed Cisneros’s political image on his day. Thus, the title of this post is not a gimmick. At least, it is not entirely a gimmick. I intend to establish the basis I need information-wise in order to think about of Cisneros’s hat and shield as a kind of metaphoric umbrella that hides a whole intellectual project. In this case, the portability of Ramon Llull is sheltered under a hat that gives legitimacy, but also of turning it into an instrument and incorporate it to his own project. For these reasons, the act of inscription of the hat and shield of the cardinal in the cover of the book meant more than a mark of readership issued by a powerful man.

Nicolau de Pacs (?-ca. 1560) included a list of famous and influential Lullists in the short Vita Raymundi Lulli that accompanied his 1519 edition of Llull’s De Anima Rationalis, printed in Alcalá. (On the contrary, most of the editions that will conform my first chapter were printed in València, probably because of Proaza and the fact that he taught the Art at the University there.) This account reveals the predilection of the cardinal for hearing read aloud the works of Ramon Llull and includes him in a list of notable 16th century Lullists along with Nikolaus von Kues (1401-64) or Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94): “semper me sibi praesentem esse jubebat dicturum ex Lullisticae philosophiae et theologiae.” (f. iiiv). It is debatable whether the inclusion of the cardinal inside this list simply documents the truth or seeks only for the protecting shadow of the cardinal for Pacs’s role in the portability of Llull. Ok, Pacs was a secretary of the cardinal and the cardinal read Llull to some extent. But, just how important Llull actually was for him? At least in terms of Lullism, the personal religious leanings of Cisneros can only be an object of speculation since Ramon Llull is in everybody’s library but nobody seems to debate over him as people do over Aristotle or Aquinas. Nonetheless, there are material evidences that can be regarded as more than mere conjectures.

The first and most obvious is the existence of a manuscript volume in possession of the cardinal with a manuscript version of the Compendiosa seu commentum artis demostrativae of 66 ff. of parchment and an inventory of works by Llull in the libraries of the cardinal that Pacs himself had compiled, as the erudite Ramon Alós Moner has hypothesized. Nonetheless, the cardinal also wanted to give protection to compilations of books that tried to spread the doctrines of Ramon Llull and he marked some of them with his shield. His shield had two distinct components. The first was coming from his familiy. This is the familiar shield of Cisneros composed by eight golden squares (a field of gold) with seven red squares (of blood shed in battle). This was the shield of his lineage, which he had engraved often in the houses he lived in and as the cover of his books including the famous Biblia Polyglota Complutense (1517-22), printed by Arnaldo Guillén de Brocar. The second element was the ecclesiastic galero of cardinal adorned with fifteen tassels. The display of the shield of the cardinal gave both protection and coherence to the book.

Cisneros legitimizes the work of Ramon Llull by placing his shield in the the front of the binding of manuscripts and the cover of printed books, even though in the case of Proaza & Pacs’s edition, neither he financed the book nor was it printed in Alcalá. The presence of the shield seeks to correspond the urgent interest of both Proaza and Pacs (in fact, a disciple of Proaza himself) in giving an official statute to Lullism in the University of Alcalá and promoting Lullist studies. Also, it tries to adequate the printing of a certain version of the works of Llull with some of the essential tools for the practice of the Art as a definitive version of sorts. Not that Proaza’s edition is better in 1515 than in 1512, but it attempts to give a definitive account on the necessary tools for understanding the Art. The reasons for Proaza wanting to contact Cisneros on Proaza’s behalf was to prove that Llull was adequate for an academic public and he was not blasphemous or heretical. In order to prove this, an endorsement was necessary and there is where Cisneros come into the picture. Not only Cisneros was one of the most powerful religious men in the county, he was also a fervent Franciscan friar (to the point that he had changed his name from the original Gonzalo to Francisco). In this, as the French Erasmist Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (1455-1536), he was influenced by the ideal of the hermit exposed by Llull in his famous allegorical narration Blanquerna. Marcel Bataillon among others have hypothesized about a probable affinity between the idea of a politically and religiously unified Mediterranean region and Cisneros’s Lullism.

Apart from the manuscript of the Artis demostrativa, Cisneros was in possession of three other very important Lullist manuscripts about which I will write in following posts. Nonetheless, the manuscript of the Compendiosa seu commentum artis demostrativae is a remarkable manuscript in itself. A close collaborator of Llull or one of his disciples probably copied the manuscript at the beginning of the 14th century in France and it is one the best preserved versions of the Art, at the same time closer to its source. It is also a remarkably well-preserved object without almost any marginal notes or any other reader marks, such as writing between lines or maniculae. The fact that such an important object survived almost 200 years in such a polished state proves that this manuscript was distinct and that it was not a working copy. It could be argued that this was one of the copies that the cardinal liked to here read by other people, as Pacs witnessed and that such fact may have the reason for it to have stayed so well preserved.

Nevertheless, it would be possible to argue that maybe the portability of the texts of Ramon Llull had not always the seek for readership as its main goal. Actually, many amongst the same intellectuals interested in him (from Fernando de Córdoba to Athanasius Kircher), were also highly skeptical of the possibilities of actually using the Art as an applicable devices This is a theory I cannot prove, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe the books of the Art constituted a desired object and were treasured as objects that carried some sort of undecipherable holy occult meaning that was not supposed to be fully translated. If the books had talismanic powers and the Art was highly difficult to understand, the Art itself and its possession may have been not so different as Cisneros’s hat and shield, that is, symbols of status, power, and religious protection.

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  • Alòs-Moner, Ramon d’. Los catálogos lulianos: contribución al estudio de la obra de Ramón Llull. Barcelona: Francisco J. Altés y Alabart, 1918. Print.
  • Bataillon, Marcel. Erasmo y España. México DF: FCE, 1956. Print.
  • García Oro, José. El Cardenal Cisneros: vida y empresas. Madrid: BAC, 1992. Print.
  • Llull, Ramon. Illuminati Doctoris et Martyris Raymundi Lulli. Opusculum De Anima Rationali: et vita eiusdem Doctoris. Ed. Nicolau de Pacs. Alcalá: Arnau Guillem Brocar, 1519. Print.
  • —. Divi Raymundi Lulli Doctoris Illuminatissimi Ars inventiva veritatis. Tabula generalis. Comentum in easdem ipsius Raymundi. Ed. Nicolau de Pacs & Alfonso de Proaza. València: Diego de Gumiel, 1515. Print.
  • —. Compendium artis demonstrativa. Madrid, Biblioteca Histórica Complutense-Marqués de Valdecilla. BH MSS 107. Manuscript.
  • McPheeters, Dean W. El humanista español Alonso de Proaza. Madrid: Castalia, 1961. Print.
  • Porreño, Baltasar. Dichos, hechos, virtudes y milagros del Cardenal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España. MSS. 1736. Manuscript.


Noel Blanco Mourelle, « This Is the Story of a Hat (and a Shield) », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on November 3, 2014. Full URL for this article

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