130and Eve as the mother of death,
and as a fusion of Eve, MaryMagdalen, and the Virgin Mary as part of the papal propa-ganda of Gregory
Willibald Sauerländer emphasizedthe voluptuousness of the
gure and its ambivalence.
Otherscholars have seen in this representation a moral exemplumand identi
gure as Luxuria or Voluptas.
Anotherinterpretation has identi
ed it as an actual historical person-age: Urraca, queen of Castile-León (ca. 1081–1126) and oppo-nent of Archbishop Diego Gelmírez (ca. 1069–1140).
Forhis part, Carlos Sastre Vázquez sees in the
gure a warningagainst conjugal in
delity, particularly appropriate as a back-drop for marriage ceremonies at the Puerta de las Platerías.
More recently, Manuel Castiñeiras González has linked thepiece to the story of Tristan and Isolde, expanding an earlieridea of Serafín Moralejo Álvarez.
All of these interpretations have their merits, yet nonehas proved entirely convincing.
A consideration of formaland stylistic peculiarities, however, can help us reconstruct theoriginal context of the Woman with the Skull.The
gure is seated, knees apart, on a lion’s-head throne.Her bare feet rest on foliate decorations; foliage is also discern-ible above the throne to the left of her head. She is dressed in arobe or cloth that does not entirely cover her body but, rather,falls over her left shoulder and breast, leaving her right breast,right arm, and left forearm unclothed. The robe is gathered ather right shoulder, falls down her back, and reappears at hiplevel; it therefore conceals her right leg, lap, and left thigh. Herleft leg, by contrast, is exposed from the knee down. On her lapshe tenderly holds the skull, cradling it in the bunched cloth. Itseems to bear a letter inscribed on the forehead, perhaps a
, aspointed out by José Luis Senra Gabriel y Galán (Fig. 2).
Herhead is turned slightly to her right, and her magni
cent wavyhair falls down her right shoulder, which is almost entirely bare.The visual codes at work in this image are arresting in partbecause of their continuity from Antiquity to the present era:the sculptor aimed to personify feminine wiles. While the loosehair could be inspired by representations of furious maenads onRoman Dionysiac sarcophagi, the exposure of her right breastis known from Late Antique depictions of Ceres or Ariadne.
Today, the relief of the Woman is part of the left tympa-num of the double south transept portal, known as the Puerta delas Platerías (Fig. 3). Dating from the early twelfth century, theportal is covered with so many sculptures that its appearance isbewildering.
The relief slabs of the two tympana seem to havebeen
tted together almost arbitrarily (Figs. 4 and 5).
gure such as the descending angel on the right tympanumor the man riding on a lion on the left was not at all unusual inthe early twelfth century; the Puerta del Cordero in León, forexample, was handled in much the same way.
In Santiago deCompostela, however, the disturbed appearance of the southtransept portal is due primarily to later repairs and attempts atrecon
guring it in the medieval and modern periods.
Puerta de las Platerías, Woman with the Skull, detail (photo:K.
Puerta de las Platerías, south transept facade (photo: K.