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Reframing the Alhambra

Architecture, Poetry, Textiles and Court Ceremonial

Olga Bush

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An interdisciplinary study of one of the most important monuments in Islamic art

Finalist for the 2019 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award

The Nasrid builders of the Alhambra – the best-preserved medieval Muslim palatial city – were so exacting that some of their work could not be fully explained until the invention of fractal geometry. Their design principles have been obscured, however, by the loss of all archival material. This book resolves that impasse by investigating the neglected, interdisciplinary contexts of medieval poetics and optics and through comparative study of Islamic court ceremonials. This reframing enables the reconstruction of the underlying, integrated aesthetic, focusing on the harmonious interrelationship between diverse artistic media – architecture, poetry and textiles – in the experience of the beholder, resulting in a new understanding of the Alhambra.

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List of Figures
Series Editor's Foreword

Chapter 1. Colour, Design and Medieval Optics
Chapter 2. Addressing the Beholder: The Work of Poetic Inscriptions
Chapter 3. Qalahurra of Yusuf I: A Case Study of a Tower-Palace
Chapter 4. "Textile Architecture" in the Cuarto Dorado
Chapter 5. Integrating Aesthetic and Politics: The Mawlid Celebration in the Alhambra
Illustration Acknowledgments

About the Author

Olga Bush (Ph. D., Institute of Fine Arts, NYU) is Visiting Scholar of Islamic art and architecture at Vassar College. She has received national and international awards for her work on medieval Muslim Spain, cross-cultural interaction in the medieval Mediterranean, and modern European and American Orientalism, publishing numerous articles and co-editing, with Avinoam Shalem, Gazing Otherwise: Modalities of Seeing in and Beyond the Lands of Islam (2016).


'This rich and extremely valuable book will change the way we look at the Alhambra. Olga Bush brings together inscriptions, poetry, texts, contemporary optics and poetics and long dispersed luxury objects and furnishings, enabling us to reimagine the architectural spaces of the Alhambra as a living environment. She replenishes its colour, and draws us into its artistic voice and the meanings of its poetry; indeed, into the many languages that the buildings speak, across media, across modes of expression.'

- Jerrilynn Dodds
'Olga Bush’s extensively researched Reframing the Alhambra brilliantly cuts through the centuries of myths
to radically reposition our understanding and interpretation of the Alhambra’s buildings.'
- Philippa Joseph, History Today
'This fine scholarly book is full of new insights about the Alhambra, a famous and much-studied Muslim palace. Bush's title is apt, for this is not an overview of the entire complex, but instead focuses on several important aspects of the palace. Fundamentally Bush seeks to recapture the experience of the palace for those who inhabited it, and to do that she brilliantly exploits the literally thousands of inscriptions (especially poetic inscriptions) made for it, including many that will speak to the reader... Well illustrated and supported with photographs by the author, this book is a major achievement and deserves a wide readership among all those interested in Islamic culture.'
- L. Nees, University of Delaware , CHOICE
'An erudite, in-depth study of this well-known palatial complex, providing a welcome expansion on her dissertation with groundbreaking scholarship. Beautifully illustrated, the volume presents a study of optics and color; poetic epigraphy; court ceremonial; and textiles and textile motifs within architectural decoration.'
- Patricia Blessing, Pomona College, The Art Bulletin

'This study subtly and deftly pushes academic understanding of the palace complex forward by extending the Alhambra’s visual rhetoric to those objects and rituals that enlivened it…the profusion of color photography, much of which is Bush’s own work, brings the Alhambra vividly to life within the text…Well researched and clearly organized, this volume will be valuable to any future study of the Alhambra or indeed any study of architecture and ornament in the Mediterranean.'

- Abbey Stockstill, Southern Methodist University, College Art Association Reviews

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