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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection : Hispano- Moresque Alhambra Amphora
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Hispano- Moresque Alhambra Amphora - CB.171
Origin: Spain
Circa: 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 16" (40.6cm) high
Collection: Islamic
Style: Hispano-Moresque

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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The last Muslim rulers of Spain during the Nasrid dynasty (1238-1492) had a prestigious court, as evidenced by the Alhambra palace in Granada. Among the most stunning relics of the Nasrid factories are a series of large vases which have been decorated in luster and cobalt blue. Only eight of these vases have survived intact. However, shards found in the Alhambra palace suggest that many more such existed. They are conventionally known today as 'Alhambra vases' The vases are like traditional tinajas, large wine jars made during the 10th and 11th centuries in Andalusia and North Africa. The grooved cylindrical base swells into a broad pear shape and a long ribbed neck opens into a protruding lip ; two wing-shaped handles join the body to the neck. The vases are impressive by their size (some are as high as 1.70 m) and by their intricate, mainly horizontal decoration of animal motifs and with the words al-mulk l’illah ('Power is with God'), often shortened to al-mulk inscribed repeatedly in kufic script. Plain borders, arabesques, chevrons and geometric friezes cover the surface of the vases. Only two of these 'Alhambra' vases were actually found in Granada. Their name is therefore more a reflection of romantic legend than historical fact. Most scholars attribute their provenance to the city of Malaga, one of the kingdom's major ports and a cultural and artistic centre. Lusterware production is supported by archaeological finds and contemporary literature. Luster pottery was exported from Malaga round the Mediterranean and as far as Northern Europe to the princely courts. A 1289 Portsmouth harbour inventory mentions Malaga ceramics "with strange glints" destined for Eleonor of Castile, wife of Edward I of England. Many experts have tried to put the vases into chronological order on the basis of their form and decoration. The oldest of them, possibly dating back to the early 14th century, are relatively squat in shape, merely lustered, and adorned with much epigraphic detail. A second series, attributed to the early 15th century, is more slender in shape, with cobalt highlights and more figurative motifs. The function of these vases is another riddle – their size, weight and fragility would exclude any functional use. They seem to have been originally placed in large alcoves, as found in the Nasrid royal residences, as some bear poetic inscriptions about water jars. This mention of water and some of the motifs (e.g. gazelles depicted round a tree of life) endow the vases (and by implication the palaces they decorated) with connotations of Paradise. Their imposing presence and lavish decoration represent princely grandeur and divine perfection. Rediscovered in the 18th century, these vases were extremely popular with collectors. Their rarity encouraged some artists to produce imitations, some of which have found their way into museums. - (CB.171)


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