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Spanish Paradise Exhibition at New York Botanical Garden
Tower of the Seven Vaults. Steel engraving after David Roberts (1798–1864) from Tourist in Spain . Granada . Illustrated from drawings by David Roberts by Thomas Roscoe (1791–1871) London: Jennings and Co., 1835.

NEW YORK, NY.- The lush gardens and poetic vistas of the Alhambra—the legendary Islamic palace and fortress in Granada, Spain—are re-imagined in a large-scale, multipart exhibition at The New York Botanical Garden this summer. On view from May 21 through August 21, 2011, Spanish Paradise: Gardens of the Alhambra provide a powerful evocation of the 13th-to-14th-century ensemble of landscape and buildings and the ways in which it has been viewed since its creation.

The exhibition explores the Alhambra through three components: a spectacular 15,000-square-foot interpretation of its gardens in the Botanical Garden’s landmark Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, curated by world-renowned garden writer, designer, and historian Penelope Hobhouse; Historical Views: Tourists at the Alhambra, a display of rare folios, prints, photographs, watercolor drawings, and objects in the Garden’s William D. Rondina and Giovanni Foroni LoFaro Gallery, organized by Patrick Lenaghan, Ph.D., Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Hispanic Society of America; and an outdoor Poetry Walk featuring selected works of Federico García Lorca, native son of Granada, selected in collaboration with Alice Quinn, Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America.

Gregory Long, president of the Botanical Garden, notes, “The Alhambra is one of the world’s great works of art, one in which buildings and gardens have been exquisitely orchestrated into a complex, stunningly beautiful whole. Nearly 600 years after its completion, the Alhambra’s rhythmic arcades, splendid columns and arches, reflecting pools, and fragrant plants continue to beguile and captivate us. The New York Botanical Garden looks forward to welcoming people of all backgrounds and ages to the sights and scents of the Alhambra in New York.”

Spanish Paradise: Gardens of the Alhambra
The art of the garden reached new heights in al-Andalus, the region that was under Islamic rule between 711 and 1492, and that at its height comprised all of modern-day Spain and much of Portugal. Andalusian gardens included inventive water features that reflected highly sophisticated engineering skills; allées of trees and carefully designed beds of plants selected for their aesthetic, medicinal, culinary, or commercial qualities; arcades and vaulted pavilions; and textures and shapes specifically chosen by architects to harness sunlight. Today the Alhambra remains the principal monument of Islamic Spain and contains the most iconic gardens from this period. Moreover, it is a living symbol of the cosmopolitan outlook and cultural exchange that characterized al-Andalus, and includes not only elements of the traditional Islamic garden but also ideas derived from Roman, Renaissance, and modern architectural and garden design.

In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
The largest component of Spanish Paradise is in the Haupt Conservatory, where plants, fountains, and architectural elements combine to illuminate the Alhambra’s transcendent integration of nature and design. This lavish display represents the Alhambra as it stands today, evoking not only its original elements, but also some added in later centuries.

A Mediterranean palette of plants demonstrate the diversity of those used in the lush Alhambra gardens. These include rosemary, lily of the Nile, century plant, calla-lily, salvia, bougainvillea, heliotrope, and thyme, among other examples. Trees include date palms, citrus, pomegranate, and Italian cypress, while rambling vines and jasmine climb pillars and spill from terra-cotta containers. Species roses and ancient hybrids provide color and fragrance, as they have done at the Alhambra since Medieval times.

The Conservatory galleries feature displays that illuminate many of the salient characteristics of the Alhambra: These range from a basin with flowing water that demonstrates the Alhambra’s sophisticated hydraulic system, to an example of quadripartite courtyard gardens, to a composition of triple arches, a simple parterre, and a fountain that overflows into a pool, illustrating the blending of architecture, horticulture, and engineering to create an environment that is at once peaceful and pleasing to all the senses and entirely evocative of the Alhambra.

In the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Gallery
Paradoxically, the interpretation of the Alhambra in art, literature, and the popular imagination has until recently been shaped by the accounts of foreign visitors rather than Spaniards. In the Mertz Library’s Rondina and LoFaro Gallery, Historical Views: Tourists at the Alhambra will look at the ways in which the palace complex was viewed by some of the many international travelers and artists who visited it. The material in the exhibition, drawn from the rich collection of the Hispanic Society of America, a museum and library devoted to Spanish culture, ranges in date from the 16th to the early 20th century. Many of the works of art are on view here for the very first time.

The Gallery presentation includes some of the earliest depictions of the Alhambra: 16th-century topographic views of Granada in which the palace was the preeminent structure. Also included are some of the first interior views of the palace, engraved in 1665–68 by the French artist Louis Meunier. A luxurious fold-out plate that includes meticulous illustrations of architectural details, from a book by Richard Twiss published in 1775, reveals the perception among the English at that time that Islamic architecture was one of the precursors to their own Gothic cathedrals.

Romantic notes begin to appear in 19th-century views of the Alhambra. English artists David Roberts and John Frederick Lewis, for example, created images peopled with what were considered by many to be “typical” Spaniards, including gypsies, bullfighters, bandits, fair maidens, and fat priests. However, it was renowned New York writer Washington Irving who created the popular image of the Alhambra as an alluring, mysterious palace. Irving lived in the Alhambra during the summer of 1829 and immortalized it in his The Alhambra, a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories published in 1832. Historical Views will explore Irving’s unique experience and interpretation of the Alhambra through such materials as a diary he wrote during his time in Spain, a first edition of The Alhambra, and a notebook in which he practiced the Arabic alphabet and Arabic script, among other items.

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