Moorish art and architecture

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Moorish art and architecture

Moorish art and architecture, branch of Islamic art and architecture developed in the westernmost lands of the Muslims, known as the Maghreb: N Africa and Spain. The Great Mosque at Al Qayrawan in Tunisia is the prototype of western Islamic religious edifices. Finished in the 9th cent., it comprised a large court surrounded by galleries and opening into a prayer room in the form of a hypostyle hall; the 9th-century mihrab is famed for its luster tile decorations. Another early monument is the Great Mosque at Córdoba (785–c.1000), begun by the Umayyad emir Abd ar-rahman i, who had escaped from Damascus. The building is noted for its complex interior consisting of a multitude of low, rounded arches made of alternating black and white stones. In the 12th cent. a closer contact between the art of Spain and that of N Africa was brought about by the Almohads. Under them the mosque of Tin-Mal, in the Atlas Mts., and that of Tlemcen in Algeria were completed. The Almohads also erected the mosque of Seville, known for its minaret, the Giralda. The apogee of Moorish architecture was reached in the 13th and 14th cent. with the luxurious palace-fortress, the Alhambra, the only large-scale domestic complex preserved from the first thousand years of Islam, and the madrasahs (schools) of Fès, celebrated for their delicately worked lacy wooden carvings. In these centuries when Spain wrested itself from Moorish domination, the Christians nevertheless showed their admiration of the great Islamic edifices and decoration in their development of Mudéjar art, work made by and for Christians in the Moorish style. An example is the 14-century alcazar of Seville, whose flat, intricately carved surfaces are typical of Moorish façades. In Moorish sculpture, stone and wood carving were used mainly as architectural ornament. Many charming ivory boxes remain, which are adorned with scenes of court life or floral and animal motives; boxes were also made of precious metals. Filigreed, inlaid, and enameled jewelry, as well as textiles and rugs, were produced in Moorish Spain. The steel of Toledo was famed throughout the Middle Ages. Moorish pottery was of high quality. Lusterware continued to be manufactured. The "Alhambra jars," distinguished by their wing handles, are decorated with golden-brownish designs on a white background with touches of blue. By the 15th cent. Málaga was noted throughout the Christian world for its gold lusterwares.

See K. A. C. Creswell, A Bibliography of the Architecture, Arts and Crafts of Islam (1961). See also bibliography under Islamic art and architecture.

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