In the 1190s the chancery of Alfonso II, King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona (r. 1164–96), produced a lavish cartulary to compile evidence of his vassalic relationships and territorial holdings. This manuscript, known as the Liber feudorum maior, was virtually unprecedented: it is one of the earliest cartularies to be produced by a secular rather than an ecclesiastic institution and one of the few examples of its genre to be illustrated. Of particular interest are its depictions of the ritual of vassalage, among the earliest known representations of this courtly ceremony. These innovative compositions visually manifest the gestures and symbolic paraphernalia involved in declarations of homage, oaths of fealty, and the investiture of fiefs.
While focusing on these images of political hierarchy, I will discuss how the manuscript’s illuminations supported the ideological claims of the cartulary project as a whole and, more broadly, Alfonso’s territorial ambitions. I will demonstrate how its illustrators appropriated religious iconography, deliberately blurring the line between sacred and secular in order to glorify the royal patron. Finally, I will consider the book in relation to King Alfonso’s enthusiastic patronage and authorship of troubadour poetry, the lyrical imagery of which yields surprising parallels to the visual motifs found in the king’s cartulary.