May 14, 2012 By Rahat Ali

The Blend of Europe and Islam

Spanish-ArtIntercultural sharing between two communities is nowhere more explicit than in the cultural products of a region where two groups lived together for a long period of time. In art and architecture, we tend to fuse two streams of influences together as in Indo-Sarasan, Indo-Persian etc. In an era which was characterized by mutual rivalry and war that went on in the surface, there was a strong undercurrent of cultural sharing which did not appear to have been affected by the political tumults around.

It’s in the Euro-Islamic architecture that we see one of the harmonious blends of east and west. One of the magnificent examples of Euro-Islamic architecture is the influence that the Moorish Culture exerted in the Christian variant in Spain. Muslims ruled Spain for a duration of 800 years until the Christian forces orchestrated ethnic cleansing of the Muslim community in the European country which witnesses many heterogeneous elements in its culture.

Mozarabs were the Iberian Christians living in Al-Andalus. They were receptive to the wholesale political changes that happened to their country. They had so much to learn from the Muslims. They imbibed the Arab customs into their practice while retaining their ecclesiastical identity. The interaction between the Mozarabs and Moors can be explicitly seen in the architecture called Mozarabic. Mozarabic architecture is simple, characterized by the lack of exterior decoration, ‘ use of the horseshoe arch in the  Islamic style – very tight and with the slope being two-thirds of the radius; use of the alfiz; use of the column as support, crowned by a Corinthian capital decorated with very stylized vegetable  elements; and eaves that extend outwards. (Rosie Mitchell, Spain: Islamic and European Influences in Spanish Art)

Rosie Mitchell, who is working as the Faculty of Arts, University of Cumbia, UK, says: By the 11th century, Al-Andalus became a melting pot of many cultures.  ‘Moorish architecture developed as Islamic civilization came into contact with traditions such as those as Berber, Greco-Roman and Visigothic. The art form looked backwards to masterpieces created during the golden age of Islamic rule, drawing on traditional methods, materials and forms. This is seen in architectural decoration, calligraphy and the decorative arts*. Al-Andalus became a great cultural center for the arts as well as universities and teachings, philosophies and sciences still unknown to Christendom. The most important examples of architecture of this period include the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the city of Medina Azahara,’ she adds.

Another key term that pops up in our analysis of European art is the Mudejar Art. Mudejar Art was born from a specific political situation in Spain in the 11th Century. Museum with no Frontiers describes the political situation and the singularity of Mujedar art in brief in its web portal in the following words:

“Effectively, when the Christian kings re-conquered the lands of al-Andalus, they had some difficulty repopulating immediately, and consequently they allowed Muslims to stay in the newly conquered territories, retaining their religion, language and system of laws. These Mudéjars, Muslims in Christian lands, joined the new society, worked for its elite and contributed Islamic customs and art, whose colors, exoticism, luxury and refinement fascinated Christian kings and noblemen.

Mudéjar art is easily recognizable by the perfect integration of the materials used (brick, plaster, wood and ceramic), the specific techniques used to work them and the decorative motifs taken from Islamic aesthetics. Mudéjar art should be seen as the survival of Islamic art in Christian society, although this interpretation is only valid from a formal point of view as the Islamic decorative and structural forms in Mudéjar art express the thoughts and values of Christian and not Islamic culture.

Elements of Islamic art combined perfectly with the Western artistic tradition to create a new form which differed depending on whether the combination was based on Romanesque, Gothic or Renaissance art. As a result, strictly speaking, Mudéjar art did not belong to either the Islamic or Christian artistic traditions. A link between two cultures, Mudéjar art became the artistic expression of a complex society in which Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side. This makes it a unique phenomenon in the history of art.

The Mudéjar style declined during the AH 10th / AD 16th century and finally disappeared with the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1017 / 1609. Nonetheless, Mudéjar culture continued to satisfy the taste for a sort of ‘Baroque style’ until the advent of Baroque itself.’

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