Going Coloured

Jones, the Alhambra, and Chromolithography

Owen Jones’ analysis of the Alhambra’s decorative system established the intrinsic and essential relationship between form and colour in Moorish architecture. Such was his vision of the importance of polychromy in the Nasrid monument that he could not conceive of publishing his Plans, Sections, Elevations and Details of the Alhambra (1836-45) without colour plates. At great personal expense, he took responsibility for printing the book himself, using the new technique of chromolithography and setting new standards for the printing industry in Great Britain. Jones’ plates provided a vivid and colourful vision of the Alhambra’s architecture and decoration (Figs. 1-2), which influenced in a decisive way the reception of Moorish architecture and the development of neo-Moorish style, as well as the monument’s restoration in the 19th century. – AVB

Goury/Jones 1836-45. Van Zanten 1977, Darby 1983, Ferry 2003. Ferry 2004. Flores 2006.

From Theory to Practice

In the 1850s, Jones put into practice his colour theory based on the Alhambra. As one of the Superintendents of Works for the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, he proposed to paint the interior of the Crystal Palace (Fig. 3) with the three primary colours, employed according to the proportions defined by George Field, and following the laws of simultaneous contrast established by Michel-Eugène Chevreul. A choice that resulted at first in quite a polemic, but that soon established Jones as a world-famous authority on colour harmony. Jones was determined not to copy Moorish architecture, but to follow its principles to renovate contemporary architecture. In his decoration for the Crystal Palace Bazaar at Oxford Street (1858) or in the Saint James Concert Hall (1855-58), he succeeded in recreating the colourful atmosphere of an imaginary and magical Orient and produced a unique example of Victorian design. – AVB

Darby 1974. Darby/Van Zanten 1974. Van Zanten 1977. Van Zanten 1983. Flores 2006.

Displaying the Alhambra

After the 1851 Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace was reconstructed as a larger and permanent structure at Sydenham. It was to be a museum for the people and contained a series of Fine Art Courts consisting of large-scale painted reconstructions of historical monuments, created under the supervision of Owen Jones and Matthew Digby Wyatt. Jones devoted an entire court to his beloved Alhambra. It presented a reduced and partial reproduction of the Court of Lions, the Hall of Justice and the Hall of the Abencerrages. Architectural components were recreated to an authentic scale, but the court was not an archeological reproduction. For instance, its exterior walls were completely decorated (Fig. 4). Nevertheless, the Alhambra Court, seen by thousands of visitors, contributed in a spectacular way to vulgarizing the architecture of the Nasrid palace outside of Spain. – AVB

Piggott 2004. Ferry 2004. Ferry 2007. Flores 2006. Calatrava 2010.
Fig.1 (en)

Fig. 1. Alcove in the Court of the Fish-Pond in the Alhambra (Goury/Jones 1836-45, vol. 1, Pl. 9).

Fig.2 (en)

Fig. 2. Detail of the arches in the Hall of the Abencerrages in the Alhambra (Goury/Jones 1836-45, vol. 1, Pl. 22).

Fig.3 (en)

Fig. 3. View of the Nave in the Crystal Palace in 1851 b J. Mc Neven (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London).