Murphy and the Gothic Bias

James Cavanah Murphy’s Arabian Antiquities of Spain, promoted by the Count of Bristol and published posthumously in 1815, directly refers to Antiguidades arabes de España. Murphy places Islamic architecture as the true protagonist. His aim is to correct the “interesting but imperfect descriptions of the remains of Arabian art (…) in the once renowned Mohammedan cities of Granada, Cordoba, and Seville”. Nevertheless, his plates offer a distorted vision of the monuments (Fig. 1) and their ornamentation. Islamic forms are naturalized to fit Western canons, as shown in his representation of the sculptures of the Court of Lions (Fig. 2). Following the theory that the Gothic ogive was born out of Islamic architecture, Murphy “Gothicised” the Alhambra, adopting panoramic views that emphasized the monumentality of the building, enlarged space and created a fantastic architecture far from the original (Figs. 3-4). – AVB

Murphy 1815: introduction. Antigüedades 1787/1804. Raquejo 1986. Raquejo 1990. Andreu 1992. Villafranca Jiménez 2012.

Laborde’s Voyage pittoresque

In his introduction to the first volume of his monumental Voyage pittoresque et historique de l’Espagne, Alexandre de Laborde claimed that “L’Espagne est une des contrées les moins connues de l’Europe” (Spain is one of the least known countries in Europe). Between 1806 and 1820, he published four volumes on the landscape and architecture of Spain, illustrated by more than three hundred plates. Laborde had seen the drawings from the Antiguidades arabes and his third volume, entirely dedicated to Andalucía, follows the structure of the Spanish publication, focusing on Cordoba (Fig. 5) and Granada. He presents sections, elevations, and details of the Mosque and the Alhambra (Fig. 6), that testify to a sense of proportion and fidelity to the monuments’ representation. His depiction of the Court of Lions (Fig. 7) appears less deformed than Murphy’s, showing a special attention to the court’s precarious state of conservation. – AVB

Antigüedades 1787/1804. Laborde 1806-20 (1806: page iii). Description 1809-28. Murphy 1815. Andreu 1992. Villafranca Jiménez 2012.

Fig. 1 (en)

Fig. 1. Elongated view of the Mosque in Cordoba (Murphy 1815, Pl. 7).

Fig.2 (en)

Fig. 2. The Court of Lions’ fountain and the “naturalistic” representation of the lions (Murphy 1815, Pl. 34).

Fig.3 (en)

Fig. 3. Magnified and “Gothic” vision of the Court of Lions (Murphy 1815, Pl. 33).