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The Forested Frontier: Commentary in the Margins of the Alhambra Ceiling Paintings

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This paper argues that important notions are imbedded within the seemingly marginal backgrounds of the ceiling paintings in the Alhambra's so-called "Hall of Justice." The shared European and Islamic iconographies evident in the paintings' settings, and the creatures that appear therein, reiterate the complexities inherent in the multicultural context of the Alhambra. Through the processes of intercultural appropriation, interpretation and adaptation, these plants and animals seem to transcend their many individual cultural resonances, generating new meanings based on the particular convergences fostered by the Nasrid court. The paintings' backgrounds, on the edges of the central courtly dramas, literally visualize the cultural "outsideness" of forests, which, as spaces for seclusion and distance from the distractions of daily life, also may have served as a metaphor for the Nasrid court in Granada. At the same time, these newly reconstituted meanings often seem to speak directly to the nature of the relationships between the figures depicted in the main scenes. Displaying integrated associations deliberately culled from the visual repertoires of several cultures, these paintings appear to offer something of an oasis, where intellectuals of various religious and cultural affiliations would have been encouraged to engage in contemplation and dialogue with one another.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Art, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA

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