1The Berlin architect Carl von Diebitsch travelled extensively, from 1842 to 1848, in order to broaden his cultural knowledge after earning his diploma. This period of time can be divided into three distinct phases:
Rome: the classical antiquities,
Sicily: discovery of Islamic architecture,
North Africa and Spain: acquisition of in-depth knowledge of the Islamic architecture.
- 1 My translation from the [Anonymous author], Familienchronik von Diebitsch, conserved in a private (...)
2Diebitsch read architecture at the Berlin Technische Universität in 1841 and completed his postgraduate studies as a surveyor a year later. Although he was now eligible to apply for a post as a civil servant, he was not keen on becoming one. A family chronicle notes that “The perspective of such an uninspiring career did not attract him, so he decided instead to satisfy his artistic inclination by travelling”.1 The beneficiary of a private income, he embarked on the Grand Tour, a voyage normally undertaken to Greece and Italy by artists and architects upon completion of their education, as a means of furthering their cultural knowledge. He was therefore absent from Berlin for several years.
- 2 My translation of the architect’s obituary by Hubert Stier, “Karl von Diebitsch”, Deutsche Bauzeit (...)
- 3 See, for example, the inventory numbers: 41423, 41425 in the Technische Universität Berlin, Archit (...)
3Diebitsch set off first to Venice via Vienna and from there went on to Florence where, according his obituary, he drew water colours from the life “but not as much developed” as in his later paintings.2 A watercolour housed in a private collection which depicts the Square of San Marco in Venice, looking towards the sea confirms the remarks made in the obituary. The watercolour is a schematic depiction of the square, without the lighting and chromatic effects of his later work. From there, the young architect went on to Rome and Naples, where he executed copies both of antique statuary and old master sculpture. Several such watercolours of this subject are presently housed in the collections of architectural drawing at the Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek.3
- 4 Jacob Ignaz Hittorff and Ludwig Zanth, (...)
- 5 Jacob Ignaz Hittorff and Ludwig Zanth, Architecture moderne de la Sicile, ou Recueil des plus beau (...)
4Traditionally, Rome was the ultimate destination of an academy-trained scholar who embarked on the Grand Tour. Diebitsch, however, did not behave as one would expect, but went from there on to Sicily. This decision is attributable to the influence of his professor, Wilhelm Stier (1799-1856). Stier had himself made a trip to Sicily while still a young architect. Although an in-depth study has not yet been made, this coincidence has a significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter in hand. Wilhelm Stier was fortunate in being invited to participate in an architectural survey when Ludwig von Zanth, the first draftsman engaged by Jacob Ignaz Hittorff (1792-1867), fell ill. The purpose of the survey was a study of Sicilian monuments. Hittorff, Zanth, and Stier spent two years together from 1822 to 1823, seven months of which were spent in Sicily. Hittorff describes their voyage as an exhausting and dangerous venture. This was further complicated by the fact that the French architect was desperate to promote his career: in order to him to succeed as an architect, he had to rapidly come up with sensational archaeological results to present to the public. This in effect duly came to pass when Hittorff published two major works devoted to Sicilian architecture, entitled Architecture antique4 and Architecture moderne.5
- 6 See Michael Darby, The Islamic Perspective. An Aspect of British Architecture and Design in the 19 (...)
5Indeed, Architecture antique established beyond a shadow of doubt that the buildings of antiquity were painted in bright colours. This caused architects of the 19th century to revise their attitude towards polychromy. Owen Jones (1809-1874), for example, developed his theories on colour and form based on his studies of the Alhambra. Jones applied these principles to designs he made for the Crystal Palace, built for the first universal exhibition held in London in 1851. Furthermore, the following year he found the right forum through which to air and debate his views. This institution was known as the “Department of Practical Art”6 which developed into the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington Museum in 1856, renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899. Scientific studies of the Alhambra were of a singular significance and should not be underestimated, particularly with regard to the debate on polychromy.
6The second volume deals with the question of the origin of Gothic architecture, which at the time was a subject as hotly debated as polychromy. Hittorff and Zanth concluded that the origin of Gothic architecture had its roots in the Orient. The discussion finally boiled down to the origin of the pointed arch, examples of which Hittorff and Zanth found in Sicily during Arab rule which predated the Gothic period in Europe. This discovery improved the European perception of Islamic architecture. As a participant in this survey, Wilhelm Stier, later a professor at the Technische Universität Berlin, would have kept his students informed of the progress of this research.
- 7 Hubert Stier, “Karl von Diebitsch”, op. cit. (note 2), p. 418.
7In describing the professor/student relationship in Diebitsch’s obituary, Stier’s son makes it clear that the architect received his initial encouragement7 from his professor. We cannot be certain when Diebitsch first determined to extend his journey to Sicily, but it might have been at the instigation of Stier. The island may have been included in his itinerary from the outset, or the idea may have come to him once he was on his way. Diebitsch’s professor also played a key role in the maturation of the young architect’s future style, that is, his decision to systematically apply the Islamic style as a global solution to his future production. In this context, it is clear that Diebitsch’s trip to Sicily marks a turning point in his career as an architect worthy of comparison with the achievements of a Hittorff or a Stier.
- 8 My translation from Kunstblatt, im Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, 30.1849, p. 40: “Hier erwachte (...)
- 9 Hubert Stier, op. cit. (note 2), p. 418 following page. In 1845, court doctors urged the Empress t (...)
8Sicily is mentioned twice in the relevant literature as the place of Diebitsch’s awakening to the resonance of the Islamic style. The first occurred in a lecture given by Diebitsch to the Wissenschaftliche Kunstverein in Berlin in 1849, a year after his return: “When I looked at the Moorish and Arab architecture of Sicily, it awoke in me the irresistible desire to find an even more productive terrain for that type of architecture”.8 A more detailed account appears in the Diebitsch obituary: “In Sicily, Diebitsch discovered Arab art for the first time. He always liked to recall as a good omen an event which occurred while he was drawing the Moorish Zisa pavilion in the vicinity of Palermo. The empress of Russia (Alexandra Feodorovna, born Charlotte, Princess of Prussia, 1798-1860) who was visiting the building at the same time looked at his drawing and expressed the wish to acquire it. Diebitsch promptly acceded to her request and the empress responded by giving him a gold watch”.9
9Even though the La Zisa pavilion cannot be specifically classified as Arab architecture, as it was described in contemporary literature, such anecdotes lead one to reflect on the influence of Sicilian buildings in the work of Diebitsch. This is particularly relevant to the Moorish House built in Berlin in 1856-1857. A watercolour of the façade of the house, in a private collection (fig. 1) is a precise rendering of the façades of the building, one of which gave on to the Hafenplatz and the other on to the Dessauerstraße. The house was destroyed during the Second World War. The façades of this five storey building have six and seven bays respectively, with a large projecting domed bay at the corner of the streets. The façade giving onto the square features a three storeyed oriel at the centre axis, over the entrance porch. Striped decoration and striped string courses and the ornamental cornice serve to emphasize the horizontality of the levels. By contrast, the vertical oriel and projecting bays serve as a counterbalance, structured by the ornamentation and window ornamentation.
1. Carl von Diebitsch, Design for the Moorish House in Berlin, pencil, watercolour, 1856/1857.
- 10 See Hittorff’s reconstruction of La Zisa in Jacob Ignaz Hittorff and Ludwig Zanth, Architecture mo (...)
10Certain elements derive from the façade of La Zisa, namely the string courses, the ornamental roof cornice, and the decoration surrounding the windows. The unusual design of the entrance porch giving on the façade of no 4 Hafenplatz, which shelters a two-storey portal, is further convincing proof of the influence of La Zisa. The height of the door is double the width and designed in the same way as the main façade of La Zisa. However, one is tempted to wonder how Diebitsch could have recognized this prominent architectural feature when he saw it. Less than one storey is visible in Hittorff’s attempt of at the reconstruction of the La Zisa portal and a comparison with contemporary lithographic prints reveals that this entrance had been partly walled up.10 As we will see below, Diebitsch ultimately discovered for himself that this entrance had been walled up; otherwise he would have been unable to recreate his own version of the portal at the Berlin square. Professor Stier may therefore have played a role in reconstituting the design.
- 11 Carl von Diebitsch, La Zisa, Palermo, pencil on paper, Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturm (...)
11Only one pencil drawing of La Zisa by Diebitsch is known today, now in the architectural archives of the Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek.11 The document represents the short side of an oblong building, with a narrow tower matched by another on the shorter side (fig. 2). The towers are fully integrated into the façade. A cornice separating each of the three storeys is part of the façade as well. Each storey of the tower has a double row of lancet arches which spans the length of the façade. The upper level of the tower and the roof, in the form of a tetrahedron and the crenellations, are later 16th century additions. The crenellated roof cornice formerly had a kufic inscription more than thirty-six meters in length, later removed. In his reconstruction of La Zisa, Hittorff realised that the towers were not, in fact, towers but bays projecting from the shorter sides of the building. On closer inspection they are seen to be extensions which prolong each side of the main façade. Therefore, the element of the towers which are a feature of La Zisa must be excluded from any consideration of the design of the bays of the Moorish House. This detail derives from another model which will be discussed later.
2. Carl von Diebitsch, La Zisa, pencil drawing.
Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek, 41857.
12The main façade facing east is in shadow, but the wall articulation can be still identified, especially when compared with actual photographs of the palace. It had four blind double lancet arches on the second floor, grouped in pairs on either side of the central axis and seven on the top floor in different sizes. Depending on their height, these arches had either a single arcade or twin arcades, which may have been supported by a marble column. The wall above the arcades with the double lancet arches may have been openwork. Later the openings were changed to rectangular windows. Hittorff’s 19th century reconstruction is surprisingly close to the original design of La Zisa’s main façade. The ground floor is preceded by an open gallery with three arches. At the centre of the gallery is the entrance which opens into the Fountain Hall and, as already mentioned, this entrance is double its width in height. On Diebitsch’s drawing the arch of the entrance portal is lower and almost covered by an overhanging balcony in front of a window. But beside this balcony a sharp diagonal line can be perceived, ascending to the window standing out in relief betraying the presence the former pointed arch of the entrance portal. Diebitsch was visibly aware of the fact that this entrance was formerly almost two storeys high.
13Diebitsch’s interpretation of La Zisa as it is shared by other artists of the 19th century is linked in imagination with a medieval fortified castle with its posterior towers and banners. The impression is especially perceived from the shorter lateral façade. However the main façade of the palace built for William I in 1164 reveals an airy summer residence. The building, which was completed by his son, William II in about 1180, was surrounded by attractive gardens, once part of much larger grounds. By the 19th century, the palace had lost much of its former glory, but remained even so a popular destination for visiting architects like Diebitsch. Essentially an amalgam of Byzantine, Arab and Norman architecture, La Zisa became a unique and appropriate archetype. In general, 19th century receptions were limited to its interior of the Fountain Hall of La Zisa adorned with mosaics and stalactite vaulting; high up on the rear wall water flowed from a fountain to form successive square pools along the central axis of the hall, ending in a large open reservoir in front of the palace. This arrangement is a frequent feature of Islamic palatial architecture. A European example is the Arab Hall, designed from 1877 to 1881 for Lord Leighton’s London home. The plan, a square with recesses on each side is typical of the hall plan of many palaces and mausoleums across the Islamic world, including La Zisa. Diebitsch designed such a floor plan for his Moorish pavilion at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867 (fig. 5). For the plan of the pavilion presented inside a Moorish style garden, the architect used an octagonal sheet of paper which he then glued onto another sheet of squared coloured Ingres paper. This exquisite watercolour was meant to be shown to potential buyers of the Moorish pavilion, such as European royalty, or the viceroy of Egypt.
- 12 Carl von Diebitsch, Minaret of the Great Mosque of Sevilla (so called Giralda), pencil, watercolou (...)
- 13 The upper lantern was added in the 16th century after the tower had been incorporated into the cat (...)
14It will be recalled that unlike La Zisa, the Moorish House in Berlin has a domed projecting bay at the corner of the building. This bay has four superimposed horseshoe arch terminating in a horizontal topped section with tripartite dwarf arcades. This detail recalls another distinctive feature of Islamic architecture that is the minaret adjoining the mosque, whereas the La Zisa extensions are more or less incorporated into the building. One of Diebitsch’s watercolours is entitled the Giralda in Seville12, formerly a minaret converted into a belltower. When Diebitsch drew the Giralda he represented the tower with the lantern, a later addition13, but left out the unattractive balconies in front of the paired windows (or rather doors), also a later addition. Numerous pictures of the Giralda paintings painted in the 19th century depict these balconies, showing that the architect was acting on his own initiative. It exemplifies Diebitsch’s and Hittorff’s ambiguous attitude with regard to Islamic architecture: by on the one hand restoring La Zisa to its former glory as an Islamic monument but on the other implicitly endorsing the bell tower as part of the cathedral. However, Diebitsch’s watercolour clearly demonstrates that the former minaret, which takes up a third of the sheet of paper, now formed an integral part of the Christian Cathedral. On Diebitsch’s watercolour, the Almohad minaret is impressively highlighted, while the nave lies in shadow. Only the upper part of the patterned brick façade is visible, the more or less undecorated lower part of the minaret being hidden behind trees. The volumes and monumental air of the Almohad minaret are impressive. The ornamentation, consisting of architectural elements and geometric motifs predominates over floral patterning. The four projecting bays of the Moorish House are modelled on this decorative vocabulary. The one at the corner of Hafenplatz and Dessauerstraße has already been referred to in this context. Another variant is the façade on the Dessauerstraße, which displays the typical rhomboid composition of the minaret, disposed vertically between paired horseshoe arch windows.
15The Moorish House in Berlin is more than a mere compilation of elements borrowed from La Zisa and the Giralda. It not only reflects the importance of his travels between 1842 and 1848, but also embodies his architectural production during the 1850’s and expresses his identity as an artist.
16An undated sketchbook housed in a private collection contains drawings from another monument located near Palermo which inspired Diebitsch as much as La Zisa. A splendid cloister, completed about 1200, belonging to Monreale Cathedral (fig. 3). The pointed arches gracing the courtyard of the Benedictine cloister are supported on pairs of columns in white marble. Each of these load-bearing columns is grouped in pairs with double capitals carved from a single block. Executed in marble, the capitals are richly carved with figures and foliage, each different from the other. The shafts of the columns are either plain or sculptured or decorated with bands patterned in gold and coloured glass tesserae, arranged either spirally or vertically the length of each shaft. The courtyard is profusely decorated in stucco, stone, marble, and mosaic. In Diebitsch’s watercolour the columns occupy a prominent position in the foreground, with the Monreale Cathedral forming a backdrop. Made of costly plain marble, the classical column suffices unto itself as a means of expression of its load-bearing function. Here, however, the cloister’s columns are painted in colourful decorative patterns, conveying an air of lightness and weightlessness.
3. Carl von Diebitsch, Sketch of the Benedictine cloister in Monreale, pencil, watercolour.
- 14 Published by Carl von Diebitsch in Zeitschrift für Bauwesen, 2, 1852, p. 334.
- 15 Pattern books of the Lauchhammer foundry, plate 59, about 1870, number 28. See Elke Pflugradt-Abde (...)
17In a lecture given 1852, when the architect had returned to Germany, he declared that “Arab ornament could be perfectly applied to columns cast in iron”.14 Islamic ornament was already used for cast iron frame construction at that time. The conservatories of Stuttgart’s zoological garden, Wilhelma (1842-1846), are an early German example of glass and cast iron structures. Their history begins with the discovery of mineral springs in the park of “Schloß Rosenstein”, for which the architect Ludwig von Zanth (1796-1857) designed a bath “in the Moorish style” for King Wilhelm I of Württemberg. Seeking an appropriate “style” for the fragile supporting elements of frame construction, architects and engineers had chosen the Gothic or so-called Moorish style. Conservatories were also associated with the exotic decoration thought to be appropriate to their tropical vegetation. Diebitsch, however, was not overinterested in the three-dimensional format, and as already mentioned, he preferred to concentrate on the two-dimensional aspects of design using a wide range of materials. Ornamentation was a priority with Diebitsch. As far as he was concerned, it was infinitely cheaper and better to manufacture an ornamental surface in cast iron than to carve detailing in marble or stone. In Berlin he applied this concept to his architectural work. The pattern book of the Lauchhammer foundry which dates from the 1870s serves as a manifest to his artistic and commercial vision. In the catalogue (no 28), the same model of iron column as the one used at the Khedival palace in Cairo is offered for sale to the builder of any public or private construction.15 Its capital with carved arabesque ornamentation on two levels was an oft-repeated and successful motif which the architect applied to the interior woodwork of the Al-Gazira gala dining room and on the exterior, in the northern portico constructed of cast iron. This capital is so close to the capitals of the Alhambra that Diebitsch must have used detailed drawings and/or casts of the originals. The architect’s watercolour of the Benedictine cloister in Monreale is revelatory of the manner in which he perceived certain details and their possibilities for use in his own work.
18The trip to Sicily increased the architect’s awareness of the wealth of invention of architecture in the Islamic style. The discovery incited him to further his knowledge by a trip to North Africa and Andalusia.
- 16 My translation from Kunstblatt, op. cit. (note 8), p. 40.
- 17 Diebitsch’s close friend, Wilhelm Gentz, painted a vaulted street in Algiers in 1877 among many ot (...)
19According to different sources, mainly those originating within the family, Diebitsch travelled by ship to Algiers via Marseille. Complaining that Algiers “yields poor results for my preferred field of study”16 he pursued his onward journey as soon as possible, culminating in a prolonged stay in Spain. Within the context of the 19th century, the architect’s reaction represents a departure from the norm, in an age when one of the favourite themes of painters of the Orientalist school was a street scene in Algiers.17 A good deal of Diebitsch’s remaining pictural work is conserved in the architectural drawing collections of the Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek. None of the drawings or watercolours is of Algiers, but some watercolours of Morocco reveal, surprisingly, that he had been there.
- 18 Familienchronik von Diebitsch, op. cit. (note 1), p. 8; Arthur von Diebitsch, Familiengeschichtlich (...)
- 19 Hubert Stier, op. cit. (note 2), p. 419.
- 20 Carl von Diebitsch, View of Orihuela, pencil, watercolours, 24,80 × 41,80 cm, Technische Universit (...)
20The sources which list the architect’s itinerary concur on the sequence of towns he visited in Spain18: Toledo, Tarragona, Murcia, Seville, Madrid, Burgos, Córdoba and Granada. Starting with Toledo, in central Spain, he went on to the Mediterranean port of Tarragona, and from there headed south to Murcia and Seville before heading north to Madrid and Burgos. He then returned south to Córdoba and Granada. A zig-zag itinerary of this type would not make much sense to modern traveller. In Diebitsch’s obituary only a few Spanish cities are listed19: Barcelona, Burgos, Córdoba, Seville and Granada. We can speculate that Diebitsch would have passed through the port of Barcelona, on his way to Tarragona, before heading northwest to Burgos, and from there to Córdoba, Seville and Granada via Madrid and Toledo. Although this itinerary sounds rational, he would have missed Murcia and Orihuela on the south-eastern coast. A watercolour of Orihuela in the same archive proves that he went there.20 The hypothesis of a cross-country trip is therefore quite feasible.
21He travelled as far as the north-western city of Burgos, situated at the edge of a central plateau. The seat of a Catholic bishop from the 10th century onwards, the city was the capital of the kingdom of Castile in the 11th century. Burgos was a major stop-over for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela. As a Prussian protestant, Diebitsch did not pursue his journey to the holy city of the Catholics. The most important building in Burgos is undoubtedly the Cathedral, whose fame extends beyond Spain’s borders. Built from 1221 by Fernando III, the “Holy” (king of Castile 1199-1217 and from 1230 king of Castile and León), the Gothic cathedral at Burgos was erected following the successful battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. This battle brought to a close the Islamic domination of Andalusia. Almost all the important taifa (independent Muslim principalities) states were conquered by the Christian troops of Castile in the first decades of the 13th century. Granada was only reconquered by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. The Christians celebrated their victory over the Muslims by commissioning several cathedrals, churches and monasteries. The cathedrals of Seville and Burgos were erected by Fernando III, the “Holy”.
- 21 Carl von Diebitsch, Burgos cathedral, watercolour, private collection.
22In Diebitsch’s watercolour21 of Burgos Cathedral, the west façade is flanked by towers terminating in octagonal spires with open stonework tracery. He was fascinated by the treatment of the relatively large-sized openwork, especially that of the southern tower through which the light permeates between the stonework. The façade, three storeys in height, has triple entrances framed by ogival arches, a gallery enclosed by a pinnacled balustrade and a delicately-pierced rose window. On the uppermost floor are two ogival double-arched windows framed by statues on pedestals, crowned by a balustrade with an inscription carved in stone: PULCHRA ES ET DECORA (Beautiful art thou, and graceful), in the centre of which is a statue of the Virgin. The towers feature more balustrades and balconies, with inscriptions in filigree: needle-pointed octagonal pinnacles are placed at each corner. Unlike his contemporaries, Diebitsch drew the details of Burgos cathedral with such finesse that even the inscription can be easily read.
23The place of burial of the 11th century warrior in Burgos cathedral evokes the name of El Cid. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1040-July 1099), known to history as El Cid Campeador, was a political leader of the Christian Reconquista and is the Spanish national hero par excellence. Born into the Spanish nobility, El Cid was educated at the Castilian court, for which he served as administrator and a general in the battle against the Moors. Later exiled by Alfonso VI, El Cid left the Castilian court and worked as a mercenary-general for other rulers, Moor and Christian alike. Towards the end of his life, El Cid captured the Mediterranean city of Valencia, which he ruled until his death in 1099.
- 22 Carl von Diebitsch, The Santa Maria Arch in Burgos, watercolour, private collection.
24Diebitsch also painted another important monument while in Burgos: the Santa Maria Arch.22 Built in the 14th century, the town gate was reconstructed in the 16th century for the visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Towers and sculptures of heroes and kings or emperors were added, which includes the figure of Diego Porcelos at the lower level. The town’s founder is flanked by Nuño Rasura and Lain Calvo, the first two judges of Castile. Above them, from right to left are El Cid, Charles V and count Fernan Gonzales. Diebitsch’s impression of the town gate, in which he uses light to accentuate the architectural detailing and sculpture, is much more powerful than in reality. The sculptures of Charles V and El Cid occupy the central stage of the watercolour. The cross tower and the southern façade of the transept of the Burgos cathedral appear floodlit in the background. Diebitsch was obviously familiar with the historical facts about the Santa Maria Arch. He went to Burgos to capture these features, which at first glance have no relation to the Islamic style, at Burgos.
25Diebitsch finally reached Granada where he elected domicile for a while. The years 1846 and 1847 were his most productive. Over a period of six months, Diebitsch spent twelve hours a day in the Alhambra Palace, producing numerous drawings and watercolours. His sketches include many precisely rendered architectural subjects and detailed notes and sketches of capitals, mouldings and profiles. On one sheet, for instance, he noted down precise details about the colouring of the capitals and mouldings (fig. 4).
4. Carl von Diebitsch, Study of a two-zoned arabesque capital among other designs, pencil drawing.
Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek, 41542.
- 23 See Michael Darby, op. cit. (note 6), p. 105.
26In white, blue, yellow and gold the colours are noted with detailed data as to where they were applied: for example, white was used in the lowest part and the blue for the outlines, especially for curved and irregular figures. By this time, the fact that original traces of the polychromy applied to the façades of the Alhambra was no longer a sensational discovery. As previously indicated, the polychrome decoration of the monuments of antiquity was discovered by Hittorff, who published a coloured version of the Empedokles temple in Selinunte in Architecture antique; Owen Jones, after observing traces of colour on the façades, based his theory of ornament and colour on the Alhambra, principles which he applied to his designs for the Great Fair in 1851. Nevertheless, Jones found himself obliged to defend his principles when the committee selected his red, yellow and blue colour scheme for the interior columns of the Crystal Palace. Based on his research, Jones argued that a building’s polychromy may appear more or less harmonious to the eye, depending on the proportions of the primary colours used. This principle has been scientifically proven in an experiment undertaken by George Field. White light consists of red, yellow and blue, which is neutralized at the rate of 8:5:3.23 But the effect depends on the surrounding colours and their relative position in the design of the architectural and/or ornamental relief. Blue should be applied on a concave surface, yellow on a convex surface and red on a flat surface.
- 24 When Diebitsch showed his Moorish pavilion (fig. 5-6) in the Prussian section of the Paris Exposit (...)
27Diebitsch’s sketches of the Alhambra in 1846/47 prove that the German architect had reached the same conclusion. By the time he exhibited his prefabricated Moorish kiosk at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867 (fig. 5-6)24, the press had accepted the fact that architectural polychromy was a cultural value, contrary to the general opinion prevailing two decades previously.
5. Carl von Diebitsch, Ground plan of the Moorish kiosk at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, watercolour.
Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek, 41593.
6. Interior View of the Moorish kiosk at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867.
Illustrirte Zeitung, 27.Juli 1867, Nr. 1256, fig. on page 69.
28A representative article which appeared in the Deutsche Bauzeitung commented a propos of the Moorish kiosk:
- 25 My translation from Anonymus, ‘Von der Weltausstellung in Paris’, op.cit. (note 24), p. 278.
“A wealth of painted decoration covers every surface. It has been scientifically proven that loud and lurid colours can be united in harmony, even when placed side by side. A colour scheme of red, blue, black and gold appears violet at a distance. Of course, such fiery colours, as they were applied in the middle ages, are effective in another way as compared to our dull and refracted continuous tone, which is used today in our decorations”.25
- 26 See also note 17. The Turkish villa in Neuruppin (fig. 7) is an excellent example of Diebitsch’s u (...)
29Certain details of the Alhambra were almost exactly replicated by Diebitsch, for example the split level arabesque capitals. They also appear in his first German commission, the Turkish villa in Neuruppin26 (fig. 7).
7a. The Turkish Villa in Neuruppin, c. 1853-1856.
Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek, 41746.
7b. The Turkish Villa in Neuruppin, 1991.
Technische Universität Berlin, Architekturmuseum in der Universitätsbibliothek, 41746.
- 27 Maximilian Schasler, Berlins Kunstschätze. Ein praktisches Handbuch zum Gebrauch bei der Besichtig (...)
30Here, the capitals are more stylized, whereas for various commissions executed in Egypt, they are either stylized or precise and richly patterned. Executed in clay, wood or cast iron, the capitals are so close in style to the ornamentation of the Alhambra that it is clear that the architect must have been working from detailed drawings. In order to ensure perfect artistic accuracy, an impression of the bas relief detailing of the Alhambra was made with wet paper. These moulds proved to be indispensable to the architect’s own work and were cited in 1856 among the special collections of the art treasures of Berlin.27 The Prussian king Frederick William IV wanted to acquire his drawings and watercolours, Diebitsch refused to sell them, fully aware of their importance for his own designs.
- 28 Owen Jones, La Alhambra, London: Saqi, 1838-1842 (1842; parts 1-3, 1836; parts 4-7, 1838; parts 8 (...)
- 29 Franz Kugler, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte, Stuttgart: Ebner et Seubert, 1842, p. 363. URL: http:/ (...)
31Thus armed, Diebitsch did not need to refer to other sources, in particular the standard publication of his day, namely Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra (1836-1845) by Goury und Jones28, a publication still valid today. Standards had been set and the reproductions in this publication were also made from casts. The most celebrated Islamic monument in the west, the Alhambra was examined and commented upon section by section in order to single out its “most beautiful” part. This is clearly formulated in an authoritative German book on European civilisation, published in 1842: “The noble forms of the columns contribute much to the beauty of the Alhambra. A calyxlike capital links the arches supported by shafts of elegant proportions. These columns are the most beautiful single form invented in the entire field of Islamic architecture”.29 European specialists of the Orient, through constant reiteration, established the standards of evaluation by which Islamic architecture is still judged today. This was the reason why Diebitsch did not adopt the local Islamic tradition for the prototypes of capitals he designed for his Egyptian commissions.
32The architect’s knowledge of Islamic art was not confined to the Alhambra. He travelled all over Spain, believing it to be the cradle of the “real” Islamic art. The family chronicle notes that besides the Alhambra, that he focused on the Alcázar of Seville. Originally a Moorish fort, the Alcázar had been enlarged several times. The earliest part, the so-called Yeso courtyard, dates from the 12th century and is the only Islamic part of this otherwise Mudejar building. The remainder was built over the ruins of the Moorish palace for King Pedro I of Castile (also known as Pedro the Cruel). As construction began in 1364, art historians have questioned whether it perpetuates the spirit of the lost Almohad palace. However, the style of the palace is distinctly Islamic, owing to the fact that Pedro employed Moorish workers. The palace is one of the best remaining examples of Mudejar architecture in Spain, a style which flowered under Christian rule using Islamic architectural models. Subsequent monarchs have added their own additions to the Alcázar. Charles V’s addition of Gothic elements contrasts with the dominant Islamic style.
33According to the family chronicle, only one of Diebitsch’s watercolours survives of the many he would appear to have painted of the Alcázar (fig. 8). It is a close-up of the Patio de las Muñecas, or the courtyard of the Dolls. The private area of the palace was centred around this patio, the public area being disposed around the Patio de las Doncellas (the Maidens’ courtyard). This patio, befitting its use, is an intimate space surrounded by a gallery. In the 19th century a number of changes were made to this courtyard, and as a result, the decoration is not entirely original. Diebitsch gave a touch of domesticity to the courtyard, as a boy is lying on the floor playing with his dog and two women are chatting beside him, reflecting its function as a small patio accessed through the private apartments. One is again impressed by the architect’s insights relative to Spanish architectural history. In the watercolour of the Alcázar, Diebitsch depicts an axis in which a set of rooms and/or courtyards is combined with a windowed recess giving onto the outside. The sequence of the chamber-antechamber is carried to an extreme. He would later borrow this characteristic feature for his Moorish kiosk at the 1867 Exposition Universelle (fig. 5-6). As already apparent in the watercolour, Diebitsch used the triple bayed arcade to divide the room with the space articulated around a tall central round arch next to smaller arches reposing on columns. This detail features on all four sides of the narthex within the Moorish kiosk as well as the chamber-antechamber on the inside. On the interior, five arcades are disposed around an inner court in the exhibition pavilion.
8. Carl von Diebitsch, The Courtyyard of the Dolls of the Alcázar of Seville, watercolour.
34Diebitsch did not find the “real” Islamic architecture he sought in the Islamic lands of North Africa. An amalgam of Byzantine, Islamic, and Norman style, the architecture he discovered in Sicily cannot be considered as a pure Islamic style. La Zisa was begun under William I, who led a semi-Muslim life enclosed within his splendid palaces in Palermo.
35A connoisseur of Spanish art, Diebitsch’s interest was not restricted to Islamic art. His paintings of non-Islamic monuments reveal a profound knowledge of Spanish mediaeval architecture and history. In placing El Cid and Charles V, the architect was aware of the symbolic connotation involved in placing a national hero and an emperor side by side; the first as a conqueror of Muslim territories, the second the ruler of a united Christendom. Apart from the Alhambra, Diebitsch ranked the Alcázar of Seville among the major monuments of Islamic architecture in Spain. The royal residence is considered as one of the greatest surviving examples of the Mudejar period, a symbiosis of the styles and techniques issuing from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultural heritage.
- 30 My translation from Zeitschrift für Bauwesen, 2.1852, p. 334. See for more details Elke Pflugradt-A (...)
36Insofar as the Mudejar style was concerned, the architect believed it to be Islamic. He was fascinated by the variety and multiplicity of two-dimensional designs in geometric patterns, and by the quality of the craftsmanship wrought from inexpensive materials. Diebitsch transformed these features of Mudejar architecture into standardized elements, capable of being reproduced on an industrial scale for a global market. With this aim in view, he sought to promote the application of the Mudejar architectural style in Germany. “Such designs would only cost around one taler per square foot, and would therefore be preferable to wallpaper or paintings” Diebitsch later claimed during a lecture he gave in Braunschweig in 1852.30