Alhambrism in Russian Architecture: The Islamic Heritage in Europe and Its Rediscovery in the Nineteenth Century

  • Abstract:

    In Europe, a fascination with Islamic art and culture led to an impressive amount of Orientalist architecture and interior design, especially in the nineteenth century. The so-called Moorish Revival emerged after the rediscovery of the Islamic heritage in the Iberian Peninsula. The Alhambra in Granada or, rather, the décor of its medieval Nasrid palaces, frequently served as an archetype for designs in the neo-Moorish style. In most European countries, buildings and interior designs testify to the widespread fashion. However, the fact that the Alhambra’s architecture was also heavily adopted in Tsarist Russia is nearly absent from the non-Russian scholarly literature. In the former capital St. Petersburg alone, there were more than fifty interior designs done in the Moorish Revivalist style between 1830 and 1917. Initially, English, French, and Spanish books were the basis for most of these designs. Later, Russian architects, sent to Europe by the Imperial Academy of Arts to widen their horizons after graduation, traveled to Granada and studied the Alhambra in situ. Their works were then exhibited at the Imperial Academy of Arts, where they served as exemplars to students. The Museum of the Academy of Arts thus still has an extensive but little-known collection of drawings, models, and plaster casts of Spanish Islamic landmarks. Focusing on Russian examples, my paper considers the phenomenon of the Moorish Revival from an unusual perspective. It highlights its extent and complexity, briefly referencing its diverse manifestations in Europe, but also insisting on its consistency. Islamic landmarks were part of the European cultural heritage, and the neo-Moorish style was part of the common European patrimony. This was the result of both close connections between countries and far-reaching cultural transfers in art.