Saudi Aramco World July/Aug 2014 - page 8

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Saudi Aramco World
The Alhambra has long been upheld as the most precious gem
of Hispano-Islamic art. It has profoundly inspired countless
artists, from Granada and around the world, who regard it
almost universally as an epitome of esthetics, replete with his-
torical, mathematical, spiritual, mystical, sensual and oneiric
aspects. Each artist has interpreted it and, in turn, let it exert
its own influences, according to the artist’s own style, whether
historic, scientific, romantic, avant-garde or contemporary.
T
he palace of the Alhambra was built between the
13th and 15th centuries by the Nasrid sultans, the
last of eight centuries of Muslim rulers in al-Anda-
lus, the name given to Muslim Spain from which
comes today’s Andalucía. By the 1400’s, the court
at the Alhambra was living off brilliant reflections
of past glory, uncertain of its future. Nasrid political survival
depended on military aid from the North African Marinid
dynasty as well as protection from the Christian kingdom
of Castile in exchange for tributes. These external pressures,
as well as internal power struggles, weakened the Nasrids,
and their expulsion in 1492 brought on the final collapse of
Muslim Spain.
Built under these precarious conditions, the monument’s
resistance to the passing of time is all the more amazing, be-
cause the materials available to the Nasrids were only simple,
even poor ones: plaster, stucco, wood and ordinary, easily
worked stone.
Yet what they lacked in monumental materials, they made
up for in prodigious knowledge. Their unnamed architects
had a highly sophisticated grasp of classical Greek and Islamic
mathematics, from both practical and mystical, spiritual per-
spectives that regarded numbers as the highest, most profound
of human concepts. Following these standards, they propor-
tioned and decorated the Alhambra to reflect relationships
among numbers, the cosmos and people. For example, the
classical Greek concept of the “golden proportion” or golden
section is used throughout the palace—in the endless geometry,
in the exuberance of its designed gardens, in the ornamenta-
tion of its fabulous stuccos and in the countless panels of el-
egant Kufic calligraphy.
In 1492, the Christian monarchs of Castile took the keys
to the Alhambra while their nobles and merchants took the
most prominent Moorish and Jewish buildings in the city. In
the early 16th century, some of the Alhambra’s palaces were
partly demolished—we don’t know how many as no records
In 1832, the year Washington Irving’s Tales from the Alhambra was published, English artist David Roberts visited Spain, but he
painted “Tower of Comares,”
left,
in 1838, shortly before he set off on what was to become his most famous journey, to Egypt and
the Levant.
Right:
Like Roberts, French artist Francois Antoine Bossuet, painting the Alhambra’s “Porte de Justice” in the 1870’s,
used what were by then well-developed techniques of Romantic Orientalism: exquisitely warm lighting, precise detail (influenced
by the invention of photography) and small figures that accentuate exaggerated space and perspectives—techniques evident also
in the images
opposite.
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