Concubines, Eunuchs and Other Aristocrats in Early Islamic Córdoba: A Case Study for Women’s Patronage in a Caliphal Court

Glaire D. Anderson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,

The narrative of Islamic art (especially for the caliphal period from 660 to 1236 CE) constructs the framework for artistic patronage almost exclusively through the figure of the ruler (caliph) and the dynasty. As a result it is difficult to discern a role for women and others whom historians have relegated to the margins due to gender and/or legal status (i.e. freeborn, enslaved, or freed), even when such women and men were part of the ruling class. This is the case for early Islamic Córdoba during the reign of the Andalusi Umayyads (r. 756-1031 CE), whose monuments (especially the Great Mosque of Córdoba) and artworks are canonical in early Islamic art history. Using Umayyad court chronicles and material evidence (monuments, objects, and epigraphy) I argue that court concubines were among the most active patrons of architecture in early Islamic Córdoba. Wealthy and influential, their commissions were conducted at the highest levels of patronage and formed part of the dramatic urban expansion of this celebrated medieval city in the ninth and tenth centuries. The article argues, therefore, that the caliphal period, usually seen as a period adverse to women's patronage, in fact provides an important context for their later active involvement in the arts in the early modern period. The Umayyad concubines nevertheless should not be seen in isolation, I will argue, but are part of a larger picture of art and architecture patronage and even design by other "marginalized" court elites, especially high-ranking eunuchs.