Saudi Aramco World July/Aug 2014 - page 9

July/August 2014
7
were kept—to make way for the Renaissance palace that Em-
peror Charles
v
of Spain (Charles
i
of Germany) intended to
use to make Granada his capital.
While the Renaissance palace was built and still stands
today, Granada never became Charles’s capital. Some two
centuries passed, during which the Alhambra fell into disuse, a
long dream of oblivion in which the splendor of the past was
covered by dust, surrendered to time. Its magnificent rooms
and gardens became dwellings for squatters and vagabonds. As
it turned out, this became an ide-
ally appealing scene to artists of the
newly emergent Romanticism.
Beginning in the early 19th
century, Granada undertook a dra-
matic urban modernization plan
that, over the next 100 years, re-
sulted in the demolition of much of
its Islamic architectural patrimony.
In 1828, a writer from New York
named Washington Irving visited
Granada during a short tour of Spain. (A dozen years later, he
came back to Spain to represent his country as ambassador.)
The history of Granada, and the Alhambra in particular,
fascinated Irving, who even set up residence in the dilapidated
palace, and he started to work to convince both politicians
and society of the importance of preserving it as well as other
historic parts of the city. In the same way, Irving found in the
Alhambra inspiration for what became his best-selling classic
Tales of the Alhambra
, published in London in 1832. Many of
the dozens of later editions were illustrated by notable artists
including Gustave Doré, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey
and others who also illustrated other literary Romantic works
and travel literature.
Though Irving can be credited with popularizing the
Alhambra, he was himself a follower of a trend that had
started a century earlier, as the compass needle of European
art began to point toward the continent’s most southern
area—Andalucía—as well as North Africa. Fueled by the heat
of Romanticism, and nurtured by
the popularity of Oriental esthet-
ics stemming from books such as
the early 18th-century editions of
One Thousand and One Nights
and, near the end of that century,
the encyclopedic
Description de
l’Égypte
, Romantic artists flocked
south. They found both thematic
and iconographic keys in the his-
tory and civilization of al-Andalus
in general, in Granada more specifically and in the Alhambra
most particularly of all. Granada and its Alhambra became
so renowned they grew into artistic objects of desire, secular
pilgrimage destinations. They were popularized further by
the Romantic Travelers, comprised mainly of English and
Scottish (and some French and German) writers, painters
and poets, who extolled the Alhambra as a threshold of the
Orient or, as they named it, “an Orient at home.” They were
encouraged, or perhaps enabled, by a new genre of travel
Also in 1832, French draftsman Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey was in his late 20’s when he visited the Alhambra. “Court of
the Lions,”
left,
an engraving from that visit, magnifies both the height and the area of the courtyard for dramatic effect; the
drowsy guitarist can be viewed as a metaphor for the common Orientalist idea of a “somnolent East.” That same year, English
watercolorist John Frederick Lewis began two years’ residence in Spain, during which he produced the untitled image,
right,
of
a woman gazing at the Alhambra’s towers. Both artists’ works were widely published to popular acclaim.
THE ALHAMBRA’S ECHOES
OF A “LOST KINGDOM”
MADE AN IDEAL TABLEAU
FOR ROMANTIC ARTISTS .
THIS PAGE (2) AND OPPOSITE, RIGHT: BRIDGEMAN IMAGES; OPPOSITE, LEFT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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