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The Greatness of Granada, Part 2: The Alhambra

Few places in all the world have the power to arrest the eyes and ensnare the heart quite like the Alhambra in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Glowing every shade of ochre, and pale gold through to deep russet and coral red, it is no wonder that in arabic, the name of the fortress like construct means “The Red One”. But the true treasures of the Alhambra lie in wait inside, where room after room of twisting, tangling geometric patterns, forests of marble columns, and incredibly carved honeycomb like domes seem to reach up into infinity. It is a place which offers visitors a vision from paradise, even when it is (as always) hosting its daily quota of tourists, a sensation augmented by the plethora of pools and trickling waterways, magnifying the space with reflection and filling its stone halls with the gentle harmony of trickles and splashes.

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Originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, the complex was constructed into its current state of glory by the Emirate of Granada in the 13th century. Converted into the most lavish royal palace the world had ever seen, it was revered by the reconquering Christians when they took the city in 1492, becoming part of the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and subsequent monarchs. While they embellished the site in turn with Renaissance-style palaces which didn’t quite live up to the beauty of the Moorish offerings, they did so at least in the same glowing gold stone thus creating the complete whole which now permanently characterises the landscape of Granada. Shockingly, the palace was later allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, until it was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, becoming the favourite of Romantic-age travellers and inspiring generations of artists, poets, and writers since.

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Today, unsurprisingly, the site is UNESCO protected and is a ravishing complex of echoing courtyards and colonnaded porticos each enjoying the most incredible views over to the Albayzín below. Lucky then that these hallowed halls should be salvaged for generations to come, where we can but imagine the lives of kings and their hareems languishing in the finest coloured silks by reflective pools and in throne rooms built for the imperial best. Beyond, of course, are the gardens, perhaps the most sensually lavish spectacles of all. But those wonders of nature and man’s creative touch I will leave for another day.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

My Granada Sketchbook: Alhambra Aniconism

Andalucia, perhaps the most iconic region of Spain – the land of flamenco and polka dots, sun-scarred landscapes and toreros – owes a huge bulk of its entire identity to the cultural and aesthetic character of the Nasrid dynasty of Al Andalus, the islamic rule which gives the area its name. Despite having been flushed out by the reconquering Catholics, the arabic influence lives strong in the region, from the wailing arabesque of the flamenco cry, to the geometric imagery which characterises the multi-coloured ceramic tiles lining the walls of traditional patio gardens in practically every Spanish house.

The predominance of geometric patterns in Arabic art resulted as a cleverly constructed, beautifully executed solution to the rule of aniconism, that is the proscription in Islam against the creation of images of sentient beings. The most absolute proscription is of images of God in Islam, followed by depictions of Muhammad, and then Islamic prophets and the relatives of Muhammad, but the depiction of all humans and non-human animals is likewise discouraged. The result, especially in the times of Al Andalus when the style was still finding its feet, was to decorate palaces not only with geometric patterns, but also with calligraphy and the barely representational foliage patterns of the arabesque.

The palace of the Alhambra in Granada is renowned for boasting some of, if not the best examples of early Islamic wall decoration in the world, and it is the plethora of incredibly intricate wall calligraphy there, surrounded by delicate renderings of foliage patterns, which inspired my next Granada sketch.

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Alhambra wall detail (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Spelling out what I believe inscribes the Nasrid motto “There is no victor but Allah” (but correct me if I’m wrong) – this is a pattern which can be found repeated endlessly around the palace as a kind of freeze above and below relentlessly repeated geometric constructs in the most splendid and mind-bogglingly calculated patterns. When I came to sketch just this tiny portion, it made me fully realise the astonishing detail with which the Alhambra decoration has been created. No wonder it is today the most visited of all attractions in Spain.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Our Alhambra Terrace

People take inspiration from holidays in various ways, weather through collating a set of ravishing photos, collecting foodie ideas, or even rounding up the tackiest and most whimsical souvenir. For me, it’s all about art.  There is no better way, in my mind, to look back on a holiday than through the art I great during that time. Because more than just taking a photo, the process of creating a painting or sketch involves time and contemplation, and therefore has the power to instil the final product with the great value of a comprehensive collection of memories and sensations. That is why I always do my best to get a hotel room with a view, in the knowledge that that alone will provide me with much of the inspiration I will need in the place I will feel most comfortable creating.

On our trip to Granada, we stayed in the Hotel Casa 1800, a stunningly quaint property characteristic of the rickety old houses and palazzos crammed into the ancient Albayzín district alongside the banks of the Darro River. Incredibly located just off the Plaza Santa Ana, the hotel boasted an unrivalled view of the Alhambra, but not in every room. In fact very few benefited from the crème de la crème of Granada views, but with ours, we were given the opportunity not just to enjoy the view through a window, but from our very own little terrace.

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Alhambra Terrace (Hotel Casa 1800 Granada) 2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper

As soon as we saw it, we knew it would be hard to tear ourselves away from the hotel. Such a cosy space and an unbeatable view could not easily be rivalled by a public space after all. With a moment’s glance, I knew the painting I would create that would best befit our experience of this space. And here it is. Making clear reference to the Honeymoon Suite collection created one year ago, this gouache painting continues the trend of painting the view from the hotel rooms enjoyed on our various travels. However with its Alhambra view, painted in a creamy orange with deep green shadows, this is one hotel room it will be hard to beat, no matter how much my future painting needs might demand it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

The Greatness of Granada, Part 1: Dual Faith, Double Identity

Granada in the heart of Spanish Andalucia is a city deeply characterised by the historical vicissitudes of its religious and political identity. On one street you may confidently conclude that you are in a richly embellished bastion of Catholicism; mere metres away, you feel as though you have been magically relocated to Marrakech. In Granada, you can find shisha pipes being smoked and moroccan mint tea being sipped with baklava right next door to where, in one of Europe’s biggest and most imposing cathedrals, the bells of a campanile call the Catholic faithful to prayer, and incense is swung majestically before a statue of the Virgin Mary. It is a stark contrast which can be noted across the city, recalling the turbulent but glorious history which has made Granada truly unique in the modern world.

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Of course much of what you see today has a ring of Disneyland about it, The tightly packed streets full of arabic wears and shops clustered with so many glittering glass lamps, silks and leather goods that you feel as though you have entered Aladdin’s cave, are all somewhat contrived for the tourists. But they are nonetheless deeply rooted in a past which begun in the early 700s, when the muslims crossed the narrow Straits of Gibraltar and swiftly conquered the Iberian Peninsula, founding Al Andalus, a kingdom of such rich prosperity and harmonious living that it was the nearest any civilisation had come to the Roman Empire before it. But the State’s precarious location encircled by Catholic countries meant that it was never destined to last for ever. One by one, a Catholic reconquista swept through the Iberian Peninsula, reclaiming Spain for the Christian world, until only one citadel of Al Andalus remained, the strongest of all – Granada.

Granada’s magnificent Catholic face

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It took some 250 years of negotiations, wrangling and final all out war before Ferdinand and Isabella, the “Catholic Monarchs” were able to complete the Christian reconquest of Spain, take Granada, and banish the Muslims for good. But they were never able to banish the heritage they had left behind. Spectacular monuments such as the Alhambra Palace remained as a clear testament to the stunning creativity of the artisans of Al Andalus, and remain today because their beauty was such that the Christian’s could not bear to destroy them.

However a visitor to Granada today will likewise note that the city is bounteous in its Christian relics too. Constructions such as the vast Cathedral of the Incarnation are every bit as glorious an architectural gem of the city as the Alhambra, and were no doubt contrived to be all the more beautiful owing to the need for the Christians to show-off their creative prowess in the aftermath of the reconquest.

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Happily, the dual identity of Granada is one which has returned to the city, long after the terrible years when all non-Christians were expelled from Granada. While much of the Arabian shops and bizarres are laid on for the tourists, there is a very evident presence of a renewed muslim population in the city, allowing visitors – us included – to enjoy the wealth of their religious and social culture alongside the distinctive Spanish culture which has emerged from the years of more recent Catholic rule. These photos are testament to our discovery of both cultures.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

My Granada Sketchbook: Alhambra, viewed from the Albayzín

I have just returned from Andalucia in Southern Spain. It’s an annual pilgrimage to a place which inspires me deep from within its passionately romantic soul. While the old town of Marbella, in a house radiated by the fragrant perfume of jasmine, is always my base, each year I try to embellish my trip with a sampling of the region’s rich cultural offerings. This year it was the turn of Granada, a true jewel of the Iberian Peninsula, a city so rich in cultural and religious heritage that from one street to another you find yourself whisked across different centuries and richly divergent cultures.

A combination of 4 nights in Granada followed by 12 in Marbella meant for a trip front-loaded by inspirational madness, and a fortnight which then provided ample opportunity to live out the fruit of those ideas. This meant that my trusty sketchbook went with me not just in Granada, where I would sketch sat in shady plazas, and in the echoing gardens of the Alhambra, but also in Marbella, where every morning I got into the habit of finishing off my Granada sketches over a rich coffee and a slice of spongy bizchoco.

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The Alhambra viewed from the Mirador San Nicolas, Granada (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Today, I considered this sketch to be the best way to start my Granada tales, for it shows perhaps the most famous Granada view – the stunning Alhambra palace as viewed from the Mirador de San Nicolas, with the might of the Sierra mountains behind it. I’m not going to talk too much about the Alhambra for now… that time will surely arise as I share my Granada adventure with you. But for now I hope you enjoy this first of 9 works created on this very inspirational trip. I look forward to sharing them all with you.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Inspired by my surroundings: Paseo Mallorca 2

I am on a mission. To capture the beauty that is all around me. Sometimes it feels like an impossible task… the ever changing light and the relentless choice of angles makes my head spin. I feel like Monet rushing between canvases trying to capture haystacks at different times of the day. Yet I plough on, aiming to capture (in however many canvases it takes) the essence of my Palma neighbourhood: the Paseo Mallorca

My second effort in this regard is a painting of the bridge which crosses from Jaume III, Palma’s principle shopping street, stretching over to Santa Catalina, the cool kids left bank-styled area of town. The bridge itself is fairly decorative, albeit that it is somewhat simplified in this interpretation. But what struck me more than the bridge was the sweeping great curve of the white block of flats which sits at the centre of this view. Never a major fan of mass construction, especially in these kind of Mediterranean landscapes, for me there is a real space-age elegance about these 70s style blocks, glowing in the sun against the unchangeably blue skies, especially when contrasted with the soft edges of the many trees below.

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Paseo Mallorca 2 (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

From Illyria to Italy, Part 6: The Treasures of the Vatican

The treasures of the Vatican undoubtedly represent collectively the most famous art historical hoard in the world. Containing works such as Raphael’s School of Athens, Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ, the incredibly preserved pre-Roman sculpture Laocoön and his Sons, the Belvedere Torso, and of course Michelangelo’s most famous masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there are few in the world who would enter without feeling as though they had seen something of its contents before. Indeed I had seen it all before, having first visited the museum during my art history studies, a period of absolute enlightenment which opened my eyes to the aesthetic possibilities of the present via the past. But since that trip, unbelievably some 15 years ago, I have routinely put off reentering this temple of art, for fear of the crowds who regularly collect there.

On this year’s trip to Rome, we decided to break the stalemate. Dominik had never been in, and my last trip was too confined into distant memory to be of proper value. Besides, as far as the Sistine Chapel stakes went, I was no longer satisfied to content myself with the (albeit rather good) replica in Goring-by-Sea, nor the probably computer generated scenes in Angels and Demons. While we found the entrance to be a good 20 minutes walk in the merciless heat around the enormous outer perimeter of the Vatican City, upon our arrival at the museum, we were surprised to find our pre-bought ticket entitled us to immediate entrance without so much of a hint of a queue…That was until we got inside.

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To say that there were crowds inside the museum would be suggest a beach is endowed with a few grains of sand. It was packed, rammed! There were so many coach parties, each plugged into headphones bearing the monotonous tone of their flag-bearing guide, that at times we felt as though we might be forcefully parted by the tidal wave of tourists, rather like that traumatic scene in Empire of the Sun. Just as one wave was swept along the corridors in search of the predetermined scheduled “highlights” another would sweep into the vacuum left in its wake. Moments of reflexion and breathing space were few. Once we got up to the corridor of maps, the bottle necking effect was so intense that we had no choice but to continue with the flow of the coach tours. Turning back was no longer an option. Finally we shuffled into the Sistine Chapel. So too did the coaches. And any attempt to enjoy the serenity of Michelangelo’s masterpiece was resolutely destroyed, not so much by the crowd´s chatting, but by the screaming guards shouting into the microphone “SILENCE!!!!”, the words booming out of the speakers so loudly they practically cracked the great work. Lord, I think the shock of it shaved at least 5 years off my life.

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Despite all of this, the Vatican museum remained an immense treat to behold. There are elements of the collection so arrestingly beautiful, and so incredibly well known, that one can’t help but get lost in the historical aura given off before them. However, knowing already what famous pieces lay in store, I actually found myself more happily drawn to the lesser known objects… the gallery of over 1000 marble busts was disarmingly beautiful, as well as some of the frescos painted in the Galleria deli candelabra for example, or in the long corridor of maps. And even better, since the works weren’t marked on the tourist trail, most of the hoards left them alone!

Somewhat surprisingly, we were allowed to take photos, so the images featured on this post were taken by yours truly. Don’t expect to see the Sistine Chapel though. Photo (and indeed bare knees and shoulders) were strictly banned there… so it looks as though you may need to rely on the Goring-by-Sea replica after all.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Roman Holiday

There was something intrinsically Roman about the place we briefly called home in Rome. We were staying in the Relais Leone, not so much a hotel as a converted apartment, whose reception was open only a few hours a day, and which otherwise bore all the appearance of a series of private apartments. This, together with an entrance through a very grand (and extremely heavy) great gilded door and up three flights of marble stairs, made the whole adventure feel all very colloquial, as though we were residents of that great Italian city. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or so the great adage goes, and in our little corner apartment, we felt Roman to the core.

While we immediately fell in love with a bedroom decorated in a simple yet instantaneously lavish baroque design, together with the kind of free-standing bath which makes frequent languishing appearances in my dreams, the highlight of the room was its views. Not the most spectacular – here we did not exactly have Diocletian’s palace as in Split – but whose grace was founded in the simple expanse of the terracotta building ahead, elegant in its embellishment of pale blue shutters. And if the building itself were not enticing enough, beneath it, the bustling Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina spread out before us, two cafes spilling onto its cobbled pavement, and a little press-pergola crowning its centre.

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Roman Holiday (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

One year ago, at about this time, I completed a collection of small gouache views onto the various bedrooms, or honeymoon suites, we had enjoyed after our marriage. A year later, it felt only appropriate that I should capture this Roman bedroom in gouache on paper, with the various dimensions of the room, its view, and of course that all important free standing bath included. It’s a scene which for me sums up both our experience and the elegance of this Spagna region of the city – lined with boutiques and posing Romans sipping Aperol Spritz in the shade, it felt iconically Roman, and us very comfortable guests within it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

From Illyria to Italy, Part 5: The Colours of Rome

Campo dè Fiori, Piazza della Rotonda, the Via del Corso and the Lungotevere. The names of Rome’s russet coloured streets resonate with the same romantic euphony which make the city unique. Uniquely ancient, with the potency of history bleeding from every crack and cobble; uniquely passionate, its tempers flared by the heat and its vivacity for living played out in its food, its art, and in its attitude. Roma. Even the name’s mellifluous voyage across the tongue recalls a thousand stories of Emperors and Popes, Michelangelo and Bernini, pomp and glory, ascent and fall.

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Rome has an energy which infects and conquers. It’s tiring for sure, manic in places, rammed full of tourists and trying to cross its roads is frankly a deathly pursuit. But who cannot be seduced by the smell of freshly ground coffee wafting through the streets; by the fashionista ragazzi slowly wafting through the strada of Spagna with their newest accessories on show; by the slowly melting gelati, the magnificent marble fountains and the restaurants spilling out onto Piazzas with their red Vichy tablecloths and mountains of spaghetti.

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But perhaps above all things, Rome is a city of art. On every corner, at the centre of every square, and in even the smallest of chapels, there sits a masterpiece whose magnitude marks out an entire chapter in the pages of art history. Rome is for art what Manhattan is for skyscrapers. A living museum with an astonishing collection at every turn.

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So when we eventually made it from Croatia to Italy, from Split to Rome, we drunk in the infectious atmosphere of Rome like someone devoid of water after a week in the desert. We went to galleries, we went to cafes, we even endured the coach-party crush of the Vatican Museum. But our favourite pursuit was simply to be in Rome. To wander the streets and let the city wash over us, tantalising each of the senses in turn. Smell: a rich creamy coffee propped up at the bar of the Tazza d’Oro or outside the illustrious Caffe Greco. Taste: dinner by candlelight on the Via Condotti. And for our eyes, the simple feast of colour which adorns every street and building. It is this palette of colour, the terracottas and ochres, deep sanguine red and golden custard, which is the focus of this post. A collection of photos which need say nothing more than narrate the story of a city whose heart is worn so explicitly on its multi-coloured sleeve.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Inspired by my surroundings: Paseo Mallorca 1

I cannot help but be inspired by my surroundings. How could it be otherwise? Not only do I live in Mallorca, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, but in its capital in Palma. There, I live on a riverside street so loaded with leafy trees, radiant palms and majestic cypresses, all flourishing at the exact level of our windows, that I feel as though I am perpetually installed within a luscious jungle. Our street, the Paseo Mallorca, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful residential spots in town. Lined with apartment blocks making the most of the stunning views, as well as hotels and a panoply of restaurants spilling out onto the streets Paris-style, it reminds me of the enviable upmarket apartment blocks lined up along Hyde Park in London, or Central Park in New York.

But even more appealing than the greenery running along the Paseo Mallorca is the river running down the middle of it, all the way down the hill, past the ancient city walls, and out into the sea. While the river is rarely running rapidly (we are somewhat happily devoid of regular rainfall), the presence of water, and the natural accompaniment of ducks and other birds, adds a real sense of tranquility to the area. And where there is water, so too there are bridges, and here they are as elegant as the ancient city centre to which they lead.

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Paaseo Mallorca 1 (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

So for my latest set of paintings, I have taken the simplicity of my interpretative abstract style, and adapted it to the landscape genre, something which I think works well, especially when layering up different colour planes of trees and architecture. This first painting is of one such bridge crossing the river of the Paseo Mallorca, with the ancient walls of Es Baluard, the contemporary art gallery, glowing in the sun on the left. However for me, the stars of this painting and its real protagonists are those incredibly graceful cypress trees which for me give the Paseo the glorious character it exhibits.

But this is just one view of this wonderful street I call home. I guarantee that more will swiftly follow.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

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