Reviewed by:
  • Fray Hernando de Talavera y Granada by Vega García-Ferrer, María Julieta, and: El poder de la palabra en el siglo XV: fray Hernando de Talavera by Isabella Iannuzzi
Vega García-Ferrer, María Julieta. Fray Hernando de Talavera y Granada. Granada: Universidad de Granada, 2007. 338 pp. ISBN 978-84-338-4561-0
Iannuzzi, Isabella. El poder de la palabra en el siglo XV: fray Hernando de Talavera. Salamanca: Junta de Castilla y León, 2009. 543 pp. ISBN 978-84-9718-581-3

Almost fifty years ago, Tarsicio de Azcona noted in his critical biography Isabel la Católica that modern scholarship “no ha dedicado todavía la atención que merece” (226) to the queen’s influential confessor and advisor, the Hieronymite friar Hernando de Talavera (1430?–1507). Despite Azcona’s admonition, knowledge of Talavera’s career has advanced only piecemeal since the work of Márquez Villanueva in 1960–61. In 1985 Suberbiola provided the first carefully documented account of Talavera’s archiepiscopal administration. The 1992 quincentenary of Granada’s surrender to Castile inspired several publications and republications of (almost hagiographical) works about Talavera (Fernández de Madrid, Resines Llorente), but these contributed virtually no new information. Four decades after Márquez Villanueva’s work, the best brief critical treatment of Talavera’s career remains the introduction to Aldea’s 1976 essay on the archbishop’s library and will. Two new book-length studies by María Julieta Vega García-Ferrer and Isabella Iannuzzi now seek to remedy the neglect of Talavera in modern historical scholarship.

In Fray Hernando de Talavera y Granada, the distinguished musicologist brings her formidable specialized expertise to the study of Talavera’s major liturgical composition, the mass In festo deditionis nominatissimae urbis Granatae. She frames her analysis (93–128) between a summary, but careful analysis of Talavera’s life (19–92) and extensive appendices of iconographic and documentary evidence (129–314).

Her first chapter, “En torno a las Vidas y la biografía de Fray Hernando (c. 1430–1507)” (20–63) begins with a welcome attempt to sort the relative merits and provenance of the various contemporary and sixteenth-century biographies of Talavera (20–25), and then recounts the full trajectory of his life, from his birth around 1430 into a humble converso family to the miracles reported soon after his death in 1507. A second chapter, “La obra religiosa, benéfica y cultural de fray Hernando de Talavera” (65–92), focuses specifically on his achievements [End Page 229] as the first Archbishop of Granada. Some readers may find excessive her praise of Talavera’s tolerance toward heterodoxy (40) and non-violent methods for evangelizing Granada’s Muslims (86–92), or her claim that his proposals for improving clerical morals could have helped avoid the Protestant Reformation (30). Nonetheless, Vega García-Ferrer’s third chapter, “Fray Hernando, compositor: la Misa y el Oficio de la Toma de Granada” (93–128), offers the most incisive analysis to date of this important work of musical propaganda, whose contribution to promoting the political and religious ideology of the Catholic Monarchs she explicates very exactly. Scholars of this era will especially appreciate Vega García-Ferrer’s painstaking identification of the biblical figures and allusions that Talavera assembles to express the political and religious ideals of Isabel and Ferdinand, since these scriptural references undoubtedly deserve notice in other non-liturgical texts as well.

The extensive appendices, which constitute over half of Vega García-Ferrer’s work, offer a cornucopia of iconographic and textual material regarding Talavera’s career:

eight full-color plates of paintings, monuments, manuscripts, and incunabula


a new critical transcription of the anonymous Sumario de la vida del primer arçobispo de Granada, don frey Hernando de Talavera (Evora: Andrés de Burgos, 1557)


an edition of a previously unknown manuscript copy (made in 1527) of Talavera’s will


an edition and Spanish translation of the In festo deditionis nominatissimae urbis Granatae


various documents regarding the last years of Talavera’s career and his posthumous veneration


Of this material, the edition of Talavera’s mass celebrating the capitulation of Granada is obviously the most important item, but Vega García-Ferrer’s edition of the 1527 copy of his will is also noteworthy for the insights that this document offers (in the scribe’s introduction and colophon) regarding esteem for Talavera among the first generation of clergy that he trained to serve in Granada. Vega García-Ferrer’s work concludes with an extensive bibliography (317–35), which is probably the most comprehensive and detailed available. In a work so densely [End Page 230] packed with information, specialist readers would certainly be thankful for a comprehensive index of subjects, names, and places, but the book’s table of contents (337–38) provides only a basic guide to its contents.

El poder de la palabra en el siglo XV: Fray Hernando de Talavera publishes a revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation, completed at the University of Alcalá in 2006 under the direction of Jaime Contreras Contreras. As such, this study suffers both the advantages and disadvantages of its revision from a dissertation: it offers a very well-written synthesis of all the author’s extensive readings on the history of fifteenth-century Castile, but delivers virtually no new information or critical perspectives on Talavera or his era. In both her introduction (16) and conclusion (500), Iannuzzi defines her work as an attempt to “contextualize” Talavera’s career, and in this respect El poder de la palabra is true to its purpose. The book consists of four major sections: “Claves culturales de una época” (21–130), “Talavera y su actividad mediática” (131–297), “Mentalidades y estrategias en el proceso de homogenización” (299–386), and “El ‘laboratorio’ de Granada” (387–497).

In the first three sections, each chapter typically offers extensive background information about contemporary developments in European or Iberian history (such as the conciliar movement, persecution of Jews, or the formation of nation-states), followed by a few pages—or sometimes only paragraphs—that too often only relate Talavera obliquely to these same developments (see, for example, the conclusions on pages 112, 144, 175, 212, 220, 271–74, 337, or 381–86). This relentess rehearsal of received scholarship may exasperate even nonspecialist readers, who might rightly wonder why they need explanations of the importance of Boccaccio (126), the sixteenth-century use of the term “director espiritual” (149), the significance of the Lateran Council of 1215 (220), or the high medieval origins of the Inquisition (337). Specialists who seek close readings of Talavera’s own copious written ouevre will also be disappointed. Many chapters in El poder de la palabra never cite the Archbishop’s own work; others rely heavily on distillations of previous scholarship, such as an analysis of the Católica impugnación that repeatedly cites the analyses of Márquez Villanueva (342–51). Six appendices of documents (503–18) all apparently copy existing printed sources.

The fourth section on Talavera’s years as Archbishop of Granada necessarily focuses more closely on the Hieronymite friar’s own career. It still suffers from [End Page 231] frequent, lengthy, and tenuous digressions. For example, pages 419–25 review the role of the University of Salamanca as a center of missiology, the career of Juan de Segovia, and (briefly) the influence of Nicholas of Cusa, concluding that “En muchos aspectos Talavera demuestra una fuerte cercanía al modelo segoviano y cusano absorbido y asimilado en el ámbito cultural universitario salmantino” (424). While this conclusion may appear perfectly legitimate, the author proffers it without any supporting reference to Talavera’s own writings, but simply notes that the Archbishop owned Latin and Castilian translations of the Quran. This lack of engagement with Talavera’s extensive written production is most obvious in the brief, scattered references to the massive volume of his writings that the Archbishop commissioned to be printed at Granada in 1496 (204, 217–18, 429–30). Although copies of this important incunabule are available in major libraries (such as the Real Academia de la Historia), Iannuzzi instead cites only the notoriously defective transcription published by Miguel Mir in 1911.

Throughout El poder de la palabra, the effort to provide comprehensive historical context poses a basic challenge that its author simply fails to meet, namely consultation and citation of the most useful or current research on specific issues and topics. This failing may reflect a linguistic barrier: virtually all of the scholarship cited in the bibliography (519–37) is written in Castilian or Italian; only a handful of the secondary sources are in English, French, or German. References to Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence, cited as an inspiration in the author’s introduction (17), are to a Castilian translation. As a result, Iannuzzi’s discussion of medieval arts of memory (92–93) fails to cite Carruthers, while a long review of medieval preaching (227–42) lacks references to fundamental works by Murphy, Zink, and many others. These omissions include much scholarship in Castilian readily available prior to the completion of this study as a dissertation in 2006: for example, references to Talavera’s treatise against excess in dress and eating fail to cite the edition published by Haro Cortés in 2000. The bibliography does not provide separate sections for primary and secondary sources and is not comprehensive: many works cited in the footnotes to each chapter do not appear listed here (these are too numerous to mention). The footnotes and bibliography also exhibit frequent typographical errors in the citation of both Spanish and non-Spanish scholarship. To cite only two examples, chosen almost at random: footnote 107 on page 487 mentions an article by J. Messeguer Fernández (not listed in the bibliography) entitled “El traductor del Carro de la Donas de Francisco de Eiximenez, familiar biografo de Adriano VI” [End Page 232] [sic passim], while the introduction invokes the work of “Zamon Davis” (17), which is evidently Natalie Zemon Davis, whose scholarship nowhere appears listed in the bibliography. Finally, a work of this scope, which treats so much and such diverse historical information, should have a comprehensive index, but El poder de la palabra has none. In short, it is truly unfortunate that such a lengthy work, with such ambitious objectives and so much evidence of wide erudition, should offer so little of value to its readers.

The life and work of Hernando de Talavera still await the kind of comprehensive study attempted by Iannuzzi in El poder de la palabra. Until such a study appears, the research of scholars such as Vega García-Ferrer continue to advance our appreciation for the multifarious achievements of a cleric and statesman whose role was as great as any of his peers in the history of fifteenth-century Spain.

Mark D. Johnston
DePaul University

Works Cited

Aldea, Quintín. “Hernando de Talavera, su testamento y su biblioteca.” Homenaje a Fray Justo Pérez de Urbel OSB. Studia Silensia 3. Silos: Abadía de Silos, 1976. 1: 513–547.
Azcona, Tarsicio de. Isabel la Católica: Estudio crítico de su vida y su reinado. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1964.
Carruthers, Mary. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.
Fernández de Madrid, Alonso. Vida de Fray Fernando de Talavera, primer arzobispo de Granada. Edición del P. Félix de Olmedo [1931]. Estudio preliminar e iconografía inédita por Francisco Javier Martínez Medina. Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1992.
Márquez Villanueva, Francisco. Investigaciones sobre Juan Alvarez Gato: Contribución al conocimiento de la literatura castellana del siglo XV. Madrid: S. Aguirre Torre, 1960.
Mir, Miguel, ed. Escritores místicos españoles. Vol 1. Nueva Biblioteca de Autores Españoles 16. Madrid: Bailly-Bailliere, 1911.
Murphy, James J. Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: A History of Rhetorical Theory from Saint Augustine to the Renaissance. Berkeley: U of California P, 1974.
Nirenberg, David.Comunidades de violencia: La persecución de las minorías en la Edad Media. Barcelona: Península, 2001.
Resines Llorente, Luis. Hernando de [End Page 233] Talavera, Prior del Monasterio de Prado. Salamanca: Consejería de Educación de la Junta de Castilla y León, 1993.
Suberbiola Martínez, Jesús. Real Patronato de Granada. El Arzobispo Talavera, la Iglesia y el Estado Moderno (1486–1516). Granada: Caja General de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad de Granada, 1985.
Talavera, Hernando de. Breue & muy prouechosa doctrina de lo que deue saber todo christiano, con otros tractados muy prouechosos conpuestos por el Arçobispo de Granada. Granada: Johann Pegnitzer and Meinhard Ungut, 1496[?].
———. Católica impugnación. Ed. Francisco Márquez Villanueva. Barcelona: Juan Flors, 1961.
———. Contra la demasía en el vestir y calçar. Ed. Marta Haro Cortés, “El tratado sobre el vestir, calzar y comer del arzobispo Hernando de Talavera”. Revista Espacio, Tiempo, Forma, Serie III, Historia Medieval 14 (2001): 11–92.
Zink, Michel. La Prédication en langue romane avant 1300. Paris: H. Champion, 1976.

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