Romantic Visions

The Abode of Genii

Revisiting the history of al-Andalus, François René de Chateaubriand’s Aventures du dernier Abencérage narrated the passion of Aben-Hamet for the noble Blanca, a descendant of the Cid. Under a “ciel enchanté” (enchanted sky) the Muslim cavalier and the Christian Lady accomplished a “pélerinage à l’Alhambra” (pilgrimage to the Alhambra), the enchanting fortress that enclosed “quelque chose de voluptueux, de religieux et de guerrier” (something voluptuous, religious and warlike). Victor Hugo would sing the beauties of this “palais que les Genies / ont doré comme un rêve et rempli d'harmonies” (palace which the genii / have gilded like a dream and filled with harmonies). However, it was up to Washington Irving to popularise the idea of a dream-palace in his Tales of the Alhambra. For thousands of readers, the Moorish fortress would forever be “the abode of beauty”, haunted by the memory of “gallant cavaliers” and “dark-eyed beauties of the harem”. – AVB

Chateaubriand 1827 (1850): 150, 164, 166. Hugo 1829 (1882): 235. Irving 1832 (2002): 42.

The Painter’s Eye

Foreign artists like Scottish David Roberts or English John Frederick Lewis, who both explored Spain in the early 1830s, were quick to provide a visual transposition of these Romantic ideas. During his three-week stay in Granada in 1832, Roberts produced several sketches and drawings of the city and the Alhambra, privileging the exotic and ruinous majesty of the Moorish fortress, like in his depiction of the palace’s towers seen from below (Fig. 1), from his album Picturesque Sketches in Spain. These artistic representations also provide valuable information as to the monument’s actual state of conservation. Realized in the early 1860s, some thirty years after Lewis’s stay, the depiction of the Court of Myrtle by the French Gustave Doré shows, beyond the picturesque characters, the restauration of the southern façade of the Palace of Comares (Figs. 2-3) and its transformation. – AVB

Lewis 1835. Roberts 1837. Davillier 1874. Granada 1991. Galera Andreu 1996. Villafranca Jimenez 2012

Beyond Romanticism

In the second half of the 19th century, the Alhambra appeared as a privileged setting for Orientalist painters. Some even established their studios inside the palace, like the French Henri Regnault, using the Alhambra and its elaborate decoration as a suggestive scenario for his imaginary depiction of the Orient. The Catalan painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal – also a collector of Islamic art and one of the propagators for the international taste of the Moorish revival – made the palace protagonist of several of his works. His 1871 painting The Court of the Alhambra (Fig. 4), provides a luminous and strong depiction of the restored monument, set clearly apart from the ruinous image of Lewis’s romantic representations (Fig. 5). Abandoning folkloristic clichés, Joaquin Sorolla would focus on the Alhambra’s gardens, like in his Hall of the Ambassadors (1909), dissolving architecture into a play of light and colour (Fig. 6). – AVB

Lewis 1835. Fortuny y Marsal 1994. Labrusse 2011. Villafrance Jiménez 2012. Pons-Sorolla 2012. Sorolla 2012.
Fig.1 (en)

Fig. 1. The Alhambra fortress and the Tower of Comares (Roberts 1837).

Fig.2 (en)

Fig. 2. The Court of Myrtle (Lewis 1835, Pl. 7).

Fig.3 (en)

Fig. 3. The Court of the Myrtle (Doré 1874, p. 171).