KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Spain, Morocco, Nasrid kingdom, Alhambra Palace, cultural exchange, geometric, marble, stucco, zilij (type of tilework)
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS UNIT
This tiled courtyard evokes the perfection of geometric design during the golden age of Islamic Spain under the Nasrid dynasty (1232–1492) (see Court Arts of Islamic Spain). The themes of repetition and infinity in particular are embodied in the complex repeating star motifs of the tiled wall panels.
Tilework like this, called zilij, was used frequently in southern Spain (known under Islamic rule as al-Andalus, hence "Andalusia") and North Africa to decorate architectural surfaces similar to ones seen in this courtyard.
The walls are divided into three sections, as is traditional in Moroccan and Andalusian courtyard architecture. The lowest section of the courtyard wall is covered in brightly colored geometric tiles. Just above this is intricately carved plaster, and above that, in the top register, carved wood. The patterns of the tiles decorating the bottom register of the courtyard display all the common characteristics of geometric design. The design begins at the center of each star and radiates out symmetrically in a series of interlacing stars, pentagons, and other shapes. The patterns repeat infinitely outward, creating a harmonious geometric composition. The borders of the tile panel appear arbitrary—the design does not end but is simply cut off, suggesting it continues infinitely into space. Although this particular colorful design is unique to Moroccan and Andalusian architecture, similar star-based patterns can be seen in works from other regions in the Museum's collection.
Courtyards like this were typical of the architecture in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Morocco and southern Spain (fig. 16). This courtyard was inspired by these and built and decorated onsite in 2011 by a team of Moroccan craftsmen from the city of Fez. The aim was to celebrate the excellence and enduring vitality of contemporary craftsmanship in the Islamic world. Morocco is one of the few countries in this vast region that has kept these centuries-old traditions alive and maintained them at the highest level. Every element of the courtyard was created with traditional techniques and materials, including the designs and colors of the tile panels, which are based on the wall panels (dadoes) of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain (see fig. 22), built under Nasrid rule (1232–1492). Tiled dadoes like these are commonly seen in Islamic buildings throughout southern Spain and North Africa.