Name of Object:

Alhambra cupola

Location:

Berlin, Germany

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum

About Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Date of Object:

Around hegira 719 / AD 1320

Museum Inventory Number:

I. 5/78

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Cedar and poplar wood, carved and joined together from individual pieces. Certain sections are painted (red, blue and green).

Dimensions:

Height 190 cm, width 355 cm, depth 355 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Nasrid

Provenance:

Part of the Torre de las Damas from the Palacio del Partal within the Alhambra palace complex in Granada, Spain.

Description:

The cupola in Berlin was once part of the Torre [tower] de las Damas in the Palacio del Partal, and was built above elaborate stuccowork. From the tower’s windows one could enjoy a view over the city of Granada as well as over the palace complex, including the parts of the Alhambra that no longer exist today, which were built by the Nasrid ruler Muhammad III (r. AH 701–708 / AD 1302–1308). The Nasrid rulers’ motto, ‘There is no victory other than from God’, which plays an important part in the cupola’s decoration, can be read as a proclamation of Islam, which was threatened by the approaching Reconquista.
The cupola is, in its most basic form, a square, which then develops inwards, first into an octagon, and then into 16 trapezia. Each side of the square is decorated with a triangle that features woven geometric patterns complemented by plant motifs. A small miniature cupola sits at the centre of the triangles. The octagon is formed by panels with small arches, in which symmetrical kufic inscriptions lie on a red background, along with pinecones, small seashells and arabesques. The Nasrid motto ‘There is no victory other than from God’ is repeated on the rectangular panels of the 16-sided form. These are surrounded by small muqarnas (stalactite) arches. The subsequent 16 trapezia show the interlaced carvings that are typical of the Islamic world. Small polygons or stars repeat the Nasrid motto. A 16-sided horizontal panel, also decorated with interlaced carving, covers the cupola. The appeal of the decoration lies in the contrast between the strictness and severity of the flat bands of interlaced carvings and the raised levels of relief work. Wooden ceilings and cupolas of this kind are a particular feature of Islamic architecture in the Maghreb. Countless examples can be found, not just in the Alhambra, but also in many other buildings in Spain and in North Africa.

View Short Description

This cupola is from a building in the Alhambra palace complex called the Palacio del Partal, which was once the private house of a German banker who was allowed to transfer the cupola to his Berlin villa. Wooden ceilings and cupolas of this kind are a feature of Islamic architecture in the Maghreb.

Original Owner:

In 1885, Arthur von Gwinner bought a piece of land in the Alhambra area, which included a section with buildings, streets and gardens. In 1891 he donated the Palacio del Partal to the city of Granada. In return, he was allowed to dismantle the wooden cupola, removing it from the Torre de las Damas and transporting it to Berlin. In 1892 he reassembled the cupola, incorporating it in his Berlin home. In 1921 he donated his property to the Spanish government

How date and origin were established:

The cupola can be dated through its provenance from the Palacio del Partal, which formed part of the Alhambra Palace and which was built under Muhammad III (r. 701–708 / 1302–1308).

How Object was obtained:

Acquired in 1978 from Arthur von Gwinner’s descendants.

How provenance was established:

Documents show that the cupola came from the Palacio del Partal in the Alhambra Palace complex in Granada, Spain, from where it was removed in 1892. Its Spanish provenance is thus guaranteed.

Selected bibliography:

Brisch, K., “Eine Kuppel aus der Alhambra in Granada”, Berichte aus den Berliner Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 3rd series, 14, 1978, pp.6–7, 10–11.
Brisch, K., “Eine Kuppel aus der Alhambra in Granada”, in Jahrbuch Preußischer Kulturbesitz 16, 1979, pp.169–76.
Chmelnizkij, S., “Methods of Constructing Geometric Ornamental Systems in the Cupola of the Alhambra”, Muqarnas 6, 1989, pp.43–9.
Dodds, J. D., Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain, New York, 1992, cat. no. 116.
Fernández-Puertas, A., The Alhambra I, London, 1997, pp.235–9.

Citation of this web page:

Jens Kröger "Alhambra cupola" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;17;en

Prepared by: Jens KrögerJens Kröger

Jens Kröger is a historian of Islamic art and archaeology. He studied European art history and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology at the Free University of Berlin and obtained his Ph.D. in 1978 on Sasanian and early Islamic stucco (Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz: von Zabern, 1982). As a curator at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, he has participated in numerous exhibitions and published on the subject of pre-Islamic and Islamic art, including Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), and edited Islamische Kunst in Berliner Sammlungen (Berlin, 2004).

Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: GE 23

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