Moresque Art of the Alhambra
Our illustrations of the ornament of the Moors have been taken exclusively from the Alhambra, not only because it is the one of their works with which we are best acquainted, but also because it is the one in which their marvellous system of decoration reached its culminating point. The Alhambra is at the very summit of perfection of Moorish art, as is the Parthenon of ancient Greek art. We can find no work so fitted to illustrate a Grammar of Ornament as that in which every ornament contains a grammar in itself. Every principle which we can derive from the study of the ornamental art of any other people is not only ever present here, but was by the Moors more universally and truly obeyed.
We find in the Alhambra the speaking art of the Egyptians, the natural grace and refinement of the Greeks, the geometrical combinations of the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Arabs. The ornament wanted but one charm, which was the peculiar feature of the Egyptian ornament, symbolism. This the religion of the Moors forbade; but the want was more than supplied by the inscriptions, which, addressing themselves to the eye by their outward beauty, at once excited the intellect by the difficulties of deciphering their curious and complex involutions, and delighted the imagination when read, by the beauty of the sentiments they expressed and the music of their composition.
Arabic Inscription from the Alhambra: "There is no conqueror but God."
To the artist and those provided with a mind to estimate the value of the beauty to which they gave a life they repeated, look and learn. To the people they proclaimed the might, majesty, and good deeds of the king. To the king himself they never ceased declaring that there was none powerful but God, that He alone was conqueror, and that to Him alone was for ever due praise and glory.
The builders of this wonderful structure were fully aware of the greatness of their work. It is asserted in the inscriptions on the walls, that this building surpassed all other buildings; that at sight of its wonderful domes all other domes vanished and disappeared; in the playful exaggeration of their poetry, that the stars grew pale in their light through envy of so much beauty; and, what is more to our purpose, they declare that he who should study them with attention would reap the benefit of a commentary on decoration.