Marble column capital, Córdoba, Spain. Museum no. A.10-1922
Marble column capital
Museum no. A.10-1922
A characteristic of Islamic art in Spain was the influence of Roman ornament. When the Muslims arrived in the early 8th century, the landscape was littered with Roman ruins, and the Umayyads reused many marble columns and capitals in the monuments they erected, especially in the Great Mosque of Córdoba. In the 10th century, marble was carved afresh, due to the huge number of construction projects undertaken by the caliphs. Gradually new styles emerged, but some examples like this one continued to copy Roman forms. This composite capital looks entirely Roman, but the Arabic inscription in kufic script along its top edge indicates its Islamic origins.
Ivory casket, Spain. Museum no. A.580-1910
Spain, probably Madinat al-Zahra'
Museum no. A.580-1910
This ivory casket was made for a daughter of the caliph Abd al-Rahman III (reigned 912-61). This great ruler wished to create an imperial power centred in Córdoba, and to demonstrate this aspiration, he constructed an enormous palace city outside Córdoba, which he called al-Madinat al-Zahra, 'the shining city'. He was also a great patron of the luxury arts, and created an ivory-carving industry which was based at the palace. The scrolling decoration of leaves and flowers on this casket resembles that on the walls of his throne room. Caskets like this, carved from solid blocks of ivory, were probably used to store precious possessions, like jewellery or perfumes.
Ivory casket, Byzantine Empire. Museum no. 5471-1859
Museum no. 5471-1859
The Byzantine empire also had an important ivory-carving tradition, and knowledge of this may have inspired Abd al-Rahman III (reigned 912-61) to create his own industry. The Córdoban ivories were sent out as diplomatic gifts, and it is likely that ivories similar to the previous example were sent as gifts to the Byzantine emperor. They must have been appreciated in Constantinople: while most Byzantine ivories feature religious or mythological subjects, a few examples like this one are carved all over with curling leaves, which suggests the influence of Islamic caskets from Córdoba.
Ivory plaque from the front of a casket, Spain. Museum no. 4075-1857
Ivory plaque from the front of a casket
About 1020–30; lock-plate re-carved about the 13th century
Museum no. 4075-1857
In the early 11th century a period of civil war led to the disintegration of central authority from Córdoba, and a number of independent city states established themselves, whose rulers vied with each other to recreate the splendour of Umayyad Córdoba at their courts. One of these new kingdoms was based at Toledo, whose rulers continued to patronise luxurious creations from ivory. This plaque became separated at some point from its original casket, and was later reused in a Christian context, probably as a book cover; a bust of the evangelist St Matthew has been carved into the small rectangle that was originally left plain for the lock-plate.
Fragment of silk textile, Almería, Spain. Museum no. 828-1894
Fragment of silk textile
Museum no. 828-1894
The Muslims introduced sericulture (silk production) and silk-weaving to Spain. By the 12th century Almería, on the Peninsula's south-eastern coast, had grown into one of the greatest ports in the Mediterranean, and was well-known as a production centre for 'costly silks of the brightest colours'. Silks were woven here for the highest levels of society, and exported in large numbers, especially to the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia. Their designs usually featured paired animals inside roundels, inspired by silks from Byzantium and pre-Islamic Iran. The raised eye-tails of the paired peacocks on this silk would have appeared like roundels when repeated across the surface of a large textile. Above and below the birds is a mirror-image inscription in Kufic script which repeats the phrase 'perfect blessing'.
Fragment of silk textile with gold thread, Spain, probably Almería. Museum no. 796-1893
Fragment of silk textile with gold thread
Spain, probably Almería
Museum no. 796-1893
This fragment of a rich silk woven with gold thread comes from the large cope in which the body of Prince Felipe of Castile (1231-74) was wrapped. It was recovered from his tomb in the church of Santa María at Villalcázar de Sirga (near Burgos). Felipe was the brother of Alfonso X of Castile (reigned 1252-84), but rebelled against him and sought refuge in Granada, at the court of the Nasrid sultan Muhammad I (reigned 1237-73). It is likely that Felipe was given this brocaded textile as a gift during his stay. It was so prized by him that it was used to dress him in splendour for the afterlife. The inscription in the wide lower border repeats the word 'barakah' , 'blessing'.
Tin-glazed earthenware bowl, Málaga, Spain. Museum no. 486-1864
Tin-glazed earthenware bowl decorated in lustre and cobalt blue with a ship
Museum no. 486-1864
From the 12th century, potters at the Islamic city of Málaga perfected the production of often large-scale ceramics covered with a white tin-glaze and decorated with golden lustre. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Málaga lustrewares were exported widely, from England to Egypt, and commissioned by royalty, nobility and the very wealthy. The ship depicted on this magnificent bowl is a caravel, in which Iberian merchants and explorers sailed the high seas in the 15th century. The sail bears the arms of Portugal and it may have been commissioned by a Portuguese maritime merchant, perhaps to celebrate his commercial success.