Bader International Study Centre


at Herstmonceux Castle, U.K.



at Herstmonceux Castle, U.K.

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INTS 323/3.0 International Perspectives in the Creative Arts II: Al-Andalus and its Impact on European Art

Instructor: Ruth Cereceda

Introduction to the themes and scope of the course

Islam, for medieval Christian Europe, was not an abstract religious faith, but the lifeblood of a vibrant culture that flourished on European soil since the arrival of the Arabs in Iberian Peninsula in 711, until their expulsion under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s reign in 1492. The Islamic civilization, as developed in the peninsula, provided the impetus for the European Renaissance, not only because it conveyed the Arabic translations of works from Ancient civilizations, but also because created a scientific, economic and artistic culture of unprecedented power. Such cultural development argues for a “first renaissance" long before the well-known cultural phenomenon to be held in Italy in the 13th century.

The Arab influence hugely permeated economic and social structures in the Iberian and other southern European kingdoms through art, philosophy, science, music and literature, and thus that of Western Europe.

Such influence was later reinforced by the mystification that life and culture(s) in the Middle East suffered in the hands of European artists and writers, from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, until 19th -when Orientalism became an established topic in the arts-, and 20th –with the examples of Matisse and the historical Avant Garde movements- centuries.

Thus, through the study of the Islamic art and civilization in European soil, this course’s objectives are: 1) to foster an in-depth learning of the real heritage European cultures have received from their Middle Eastern and Islamic counterparts; and 2) to created the environment in which students develop the skills to analyse the expression and origin of stereotypes and misrepresentations, created by western recreations and imitations of these cultures and artistic styles, specially during 19th-century colonial periods.

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Acquire knowledge of the main characteristics of Islamic art, and the specific characteristics of it in European soil.
  • Analyse the historical, social and economic contexts in which Al-Andalus civilization developed.
  • Recognise specific examples of Islamic influence in European art and civilizations.
  • Study of the main trends on the Orientalist debate.
  • Develop skills in Art History analysis methods.
  • Application of critical thinking processes to historical and contextual analysis.

Course Outline

  1. Introduction I: Historical background and context in Medieval Spain and Europe
    1. Society and economy
    2. Holy Wars: Crusaders and the “Reconquista”
  2. Introduction II: Motifs, topics, and iconography in Islamic Art
    1. Art, literature, and religion
    2. Decorative arts: abstract motifs and calligraphy
  3. Arts of the Medieval Middle East. Byzantium (395-1453)
    1. Architecture and evolution of cities: Constantinople
    2. Arts and crafts:
      • Icons and mosaics
      • Illuminated books
  4. Al-Andalus (711-1492)
    1. Politics, economy and social organization
    2. Cultural and artistic developments: science, philosophy, mystic, music and literature
    3. Architecture and evolution of cities: Cordoba
    4. Evolution of historical periods:
      • Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates
      • The Emirate of Córdoba
      • The Taifa kingdoms
      • Almoravids and Almohads
      • Nasirid Art in the Kingdom of Granada
    5. Relationships and cultural exchanges with Christian and Jewish Spain:
      • Alforso X the Wise (1221 – 1284) and the Toledo School of Translators
      • Mudejar Art.
  5. Creation and revisions of the myth:
    1. Representations of Moors and Turks in Renaissance and Baroque Art
      1. The Italian scene
    2. Orientalism in 19th century Art
      1. Orientalist painting in France and Victorian Britain
        • The International Exhibitions
      2. Hispanicism: visions on Spain and Spanish views of the East
    3. Islamic references in 20th-century art
      1. Henri Matisse
      2. Historical Avant Gardes.