The First Impulse
A vital role in rediscovering the Islamic architecture of al-Andalus was played by the two-part publication Antigüedades Arabes de España, started already in 1756 by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando but finished only in 1787/1804, respectively. Even though, British Henry Swinburne had preempted the Spanish endeavor in 1779 with his own travelogue Travels through Spain, in the years 1775 and 1776 (Fig. 1) — thus the rediscovery of Hispano-Islamic architecture falling to the Briton’s share — it was the precise captures of the Spanish publication, however, which became the main guidance for the much-noticed works of Alexandre de Laborde and James Cavanah Murphy. The architects Juan de Villanueva and Juan Pedro Arnal, having been sent to Córdoba and Granada under the direction of José de Hermosilla, had produced meticulous records of the buildings, which later became the bedrock of the engravings in the Antigüedades Arabes. — FG
Swinburne 1779. Antigüedades 1787/1804. Laborde 1806-1820. Murphy 1815. Scholz-Hänsel 1989. Rodríguez Ruiz 1992. Almagro Gorbea 2015.
Spain’s Islamic remains attracted the attention of many 18th-century European travellers, like the French Jean-François Peyron, but the British were the first to provide a visual depiction of this heritage. In his Travels through Portugal and Spain, in 1772 and 1773, Richard Twiss included an external view of the Alhambra taken from the Albaicín, exalting its sublime and picturesque position (Fig. 2), while Henry Swin-burne included in his Travels six illustrations of the Alhambra and three of the Mosque of Cordoba, made from “accurate drawings taken on the spot”. He described the Nasrid Palace as a fairytale place, comparing its architecture to the “decorations of an opera, or the tales of the Genii” and defined the Mezquita as “singular” and “wonderful”. Even if his plates offered an oversimplified and distorted vision of the monuments (Figs. 3-4), they provided a powerful visual stimulus for the next generations. – AVB
Twiss 1775. Swinburne 1779: 177, 330, 304. Peyron 1782. Galera Andreu 1996. Viñes 1999.