I recently received two reminders about how much I love the small white square of art and fantasy that is the Moroccan Court. After entering the small gallery dedicated to the arts produced in Islamic Spain, just past the small but precious glass cabinet on your right showcasing a Hebrew Bible, some synagogue tiles from Toledo and a small philosophical anthology translated into Hebrew after its earlier life in Arabic and Greek, and another glass case with engraved ivory ink wells and small chests meant for storing pens and other everyday items, yes beyond all this you will see some light and an elegant frame of creme colored arches and columns. Streaming down through an opaque white screen in the ceiling, light flows down upon the round fountain in the center of a carefully crafted square, rich in the subtlety and electrifying infinitude of Andalusian plaster work. You can enter and take a seat on one of the stone benches and simply sit, contemplate the way the water streams from the fountain and how that light and air find their place between the columns and arches and the tiles inlaid in the wall. This court was meant to evoke the innumerous gardens at the center of homes built in the Arabic style in southern Spain, Andalucía or Al-Andalus in its Arabized form, and throughout Morocco. The Met actually brought in artisans from Morocco to recreate this space in line with their centuries old tradition of plaster work, carpentry and masonry. The video of the making of the court is a candid look at their artistic process: https://youtu.be/Og6cTlwBTrk
The Catholic kings of Reconquista Spain would engage in a similar cultural practice. When they would want to expand their palaces they would invite muslim artisans from the still sovereign Muslim kingdom of Granada to craft their gardens and salons. Other times they would rely on the workmanship of those Muslims who stayed behind after the conquest of their territory by Christian rulers, the Mudéjar. They relished their victory over the infidel but still appreciated the beauty of their architecture and textiles and pottery.
I was reminded of this splendid little spot first by that fuzzy form of digital extortion known as a facebook "memory". A beautiful picture of me (with more hair and less grey in my beard) and my two oldest kids, at that point rather young, taken by my cousin Abbie on a visit to the MET 7 years ago.
I loved the space then and I love it still because it takes me back to my memories of being in the Alhambra or sitting in the garden of a small pensión in Córdoba that claimed to have been the house of the great Spanish-Incan humanist, El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, or of so many spaces like it through the wider Iberian world, in the Spanish revival style houses of wealthy friends in Miami Beach, the inner courtyards of homes and hospitals and schools in Havana or Mexico City- this simple floor plan- an arched door, revealing and concealing a cool, shaded garden with a fountain and mezmerizing tiles.
Shortly after this image from my recent past I received a short note from a student. I assigned my class to visit the MET and to especially explore the rooms dedicated to Medieval Spain as a way for them to get a closer look at the materiality of the culture we have been studying. This student told me that she had a particularly good time on that trip, she used it as the place to go on her first date with a young man (another former student) she really liked. In this same email she shared that that same young man proposed to her in that same room the day before. I was so thrilled that at least one other student found this space as lovely as I do.
My kids are more ambivalent!