Caliphs and Kings The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain

This exhibition brought to Washington for the first time approximately ninety objects from the collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York. Emphasizing themes of longevity, continuity, and transmission in the Islamic decorative arts and sciences of medieval Spain, the exhibition presented works dating from the time of the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century to the final phase of Muslim life in Spain in the 16th century.

Objects from 10th-century Córdoba illustrated the creation of a unique court aesthetic under the Umayyad caliphate that was widely copied by both Muslim and Christian rulers in the following centuries. Later works showed the eclectic, aesthetic, intellectual and political culture that resulted from the Christian conquests in the 11th-15th centuries of the cities of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). During the 14th and 15th centuries, Muslim craftsmen working both in the Muslim Kingdom of Granada and for Christian patrons, the Crown, the nobility and the Church, and occasionally Jewish patrons in cities such as Seville, Toledo, Córdoba and Valencia produced some of the most beautiful and evocative ceramics and textiles of the time. These items were exported throughout Europe and served as models for silk and ceramic industries in regions such as the Italian peninsula.

Works of particular note included a tenth-century ivory pyxis from Madinat al-Zahra’ (Córdoba), an early 15th-century armorial carpet from Letur (Murcia) made for María de Castilla, queen of Aragon, and two exquisite, illuminated, fifteenth-century Hebrew Bibles.