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Sunday Supplement: Córdoba

Well it’s been quite a week. It started with snow in the UK and hurricane winds where I was in Marbella. Somewhat gleefully escaping the worst of the cold and indulging in plentiful sun drenched coffees at Cappuccino Grand Cafe, I nevertheless came home to London with something of a bump, and I don’t mean on the airplane. Rather, the bump that was troubling me was a rather large lump on my head, and with medical attention required, I had to endure not one, but two operations on said lump/ bump on the back of my head, and therefore ended the week with a sore head and a bandage obscuring half of my face. It is consequently after a couple of days “medical leave” that I return enthusiastically to the Editor’s seat of the Daily Norm to complete my early 2012 Spain Season. This is ahead of a week which promises an almost daily launch of exclusive new Norm paintings which are complete and ready to be shown to all my loyal followers. Starting with a special for Valentine’s day, a whole host of themed Norms will be making their way onto your screens for… Dutch Season! Oh the excitement!

But enough about what is forthcoming. What about today? Well, as the final instalment of my season on Spain, and following in the path of last weekend’s Sunday Supplement on Seville, I thought I would share with you what is perhaps the partner of the Seville Triptych – my work based on another  of Andalucia’s stunning cities – Córdoba . I visited Córdoba in June 2010, just two months after Seville, and as with the latter city,  was instantly inspired to paint. My inspiration, while being sourced from the generalised beauty of a historical Spanish city, was specifically engaged by two characteristic features of the city. First, I was moved by the air of decadence and decay – walls and painted plaster crumbling with such elegance that you would presume it had been perfectly choreographed in an effort to charm visitors with this offering of living history in the streets all around them. Secondly I was scandalised, utterly disgusted, by the architectural maiming of the city’s Great Mosque – otherwise known as La Mezquita – or, controversially, as La Catedral de Córdoba. But a Cathedral this is not.

Roof of La Mezquita, from which the Christian cathedral, plunged through the middle, can be seen.

The mosque, arguably the most emblematic symbol of the City with its famous row upon rows of red and white striped arches, was built at the centre of a thriving Islamic city. In 1236 it was captured by the Catholic King, Ferdinand III as part of the Catholic reconquest (“reconquista”) of the Iberian peninsula after 700 years of Islamic dominance there. Once captured, this stunning mosque was turned into a cathedral. Its minaret was rebuilt as a baroque bell tower, the open arches which encouraged people to wander in from all over the city and pray were bricked in and closed off, and most scandalously of all, the centre of the mosque was literally bulldozed to the ground as a completely jarring, architecturally conflicting baroque cathedral was plonked right in the middle of the mosque. Both the Christian and Islamic buildings are impressive in their own right, but forced together constitute, to my mind, a horribly uncomfortable, deeply shameful act of architectural vandalism. It is said that even Charles V, King of Castile at the time when the cathedral was inflicted upon the mosque, eventually regretted the move when he realised that something special and unique had been destroyed by the Christian architects.

It was these two factors – decay and the mosque which inspired my painting, and to my mind, they are closely linked. For Córdoba was a thriving Islamic city in the time of the reconquista, the capital of Al Andalus, with a huge population which included people of all faiths living in harmony together. After the reconquista, the city lost it’s status and importance, as central rule was moved to Madrid, the multi-faith population was driven out, and Córdoba was left to crumble and decay, a state which has continued to this day. Consequently in the beauty of the cracks and crumbling buildings, there are deep historical wounds, which were almost tangible, and certainly the source of melancholy in a city which is now given over mainly to tourists.

Córdoba (oil on canvas, 2010 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The reconquista is explicitly illustrated in my painting. The elephant represents the conquistadores. Like the elephant in the room, when today’s catholics name the mosque La Catedral they ignore the fact that this was, and to all intents and purposes still is, a great mosque, albeit with a Christian cathedral plunged through the middle. They ignore this senseless act of vandalism, and they assume that we will accept this as a Christian building without any appreciation of its painful historical context. As the reconquest begins, the elephant smashes the mosque to pieces, looking calm as it does so, an emblem of the conquistadores on its cloth, and a Christian altarpiece on its back. The baroque bell tower is flown in, harnessed to a Vatican helicopter, ready to be built on top of the ruins of the mosque. Meanwhile, all around, cracking walls are held tentatively together with safety pins, while the elegant street furniture of the city – lamps and ceramic street names – are interspersed with the slightly coarse application of electricity wires on the outside of the ageing walls. Finally at the foot of the painting, a swimming-pool-like gelatinous form reflects the clouds above, and is featured solely as a personal reflection of the hotel swimming pool in Córdoba which my partner and I enjoyed so much. Across it, the great roman bridge of Córdoba features, a direct pathway leading from the modern town into the old town, crossing the Guadalquivir as it still does today.

I should point out that despite its religious context, this painting does not attempt to take sides. It criticises history. It does not criticise religions in their contemporary manifestation.

Look out for my photos of Córdoba, featured tomorrow. Until then, have a great, relaxed Sunday.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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