Jewels have always played a leading role in all cultures, from Prehistory to the present day. His study has a remarkable anthropological value since through them we can know a lot of data about society and the individuals that compose it. Especially of the of, as they are the main carriers. Through jewels you can investigate social and economic differences, but sometimes also cultural and artistic ones. In the same way they tell us about the affective world, since not infrequently they constitute a gift for the loved one. We cannot forget either the importance of the jewel as a complement to the dress throughout history, in that sense they tell things about fashion and rituals solemn events in life, such as parties and weddings. Such was its importance that, on some occasions, the jewels used for great ceremonies were for rent.
As regards specifically the Nasrid world, this was, in all artistic manifestations, a paradigm of refinement. A high degree of distinction and elegance impregnated the Kingdom of Granada which, in the twilight of its existence, comprised the current provinces of Malaga, Granada and Almeria. Despite the political imbalance, caused in the north by pressure from the Kingdom of Castile and the Miriníes of the Maghreb in the south; there was a prosperous economy, thanks to agriculture and the strategic position of the city to become the nerve center of the commercial routes between Africa and Europe. These two factors will have a great relevance in the constitution of Granada as a great city and, consequently, the sumptuary arts will be of a very varied nature.
Ibn Al Jatib tells us how Granada women were very fond of jewelry. We also find allusion to this type of objects in Testaments or the literary accounts of various Granada sultans.
On Muslim goldsmith of the Middle Ages P. de Artiñano tells us: “There are very few copies of Arab goldsmith work that can really be considered as executed by our Spanish Muslims. It is curious that one of the techniques followed by them is a continuation of the procedures of the Roman age, constructing pieces of considerable apparent thickness, formed by two plates like the emblem and the mount of the Roman technique, filling the intermediate space with a paste that aims to give consistency to the whole to prevent its deformation. Therefore, the specimens are built with the tendency to produce volumes, rather than decorated surfaces, that is, their specimens always tend towards corporeal forms, differently from the works, generally flat, that are carried out in the christian kingdoms. It is constantly used embossed (...) to decorate the entire piece, frequently by punching, with floral geometric motifs, atauriques or lacework, which are repeated absolutely over the entire surface. (...) They worked the filigree in a way similar to how it is applied in the Christian kingdoms in terms of technique, but not in terms of tracing, because they always fill the entire surface with smaller and smaller drawings. , with motifs or inscriptions that are systematically repeated, giving the impression of a great deal of work and fine but tormented work.
The Arab works in filigree, forming thick beads for elaborately decorated necklaces, although devoid of spirituality and a brilliant idea in their overall design, they continued to be made in Spain during the centuries that followed the conquest of the kingdom of Granada and during the last years of the Austrian House, and even at the same time of the Bourbons, in Salamanca, in León, in Astorga, where necklaces and medallions were made for Brotherhoods and Brotherhoods, which are an evident legacy of the medieval works of our Spanish Arabs.”
Illustration of common motifs in Arabian jewelry
Simonet recounts how “The noble and leading women wore rich necklaces, bracelets, and headdresses woven of pure silver and gold with admirable workmanship. On the ankles pure gold and silver axorcas, in addition to various precious foot ornaments. In their costumes and ornaments entered much precious stones, such as rubies, chrysolite, emeralds and pearls of great price. Sometimes also glass. Because at that time, and as happens in times of corruption and decadence, the ostentation of women and the art of adorning themselves with rich fabrics and jewels had progressed so much, that their luxury bordered almost on madness.
It is also worth recapitulating a bit of the literature that has come down to our days on the gold from the river Darro. F. de P. Valladar recounts that, already in Christian times, the Moors continued to extract gold using their dornillos or wooden bowls and sold it to the Zaca silversmithstin. Apparently, this metal was among other parts in the so-called Doña Juana ravine in the Huétor Vega farmhouse, in the Bermejo ravine and in the Cerro del Sol. We know of some letters from the Catholic Monarchs to Fernando de Zafra, Corregidor Calderón and Archbishop Talavera asking them to find out about the matter and see if it was a profitable business. Jerónimo Münzer in 1494 tells us about the appearance of gold minerals in the Granada countryside “In most of the Alhambra castle mount and in almost all the surrounding rivers there is earth and coarse sand, red in color (...) a single man in the daily wash could collect how much a ducat weighs. That land is somewhat clayey and very red, dark as brick.”
Granada was a city of 200.000 inhabitants and becomes hive of artisans, goldsmiths, weavers, jewelers and cabinetmakers. When talking about the streets of Granada, Francisco Henríquez de Jorquera cites the Zacatín as one of the most important in the city. His testimony says that it is one of the most renowned in Spain, where great deals and trade were made. It began in the Plaza de Bibarrambla, a union known by the inhabitants as "The mouth of Zacatin" and ended in Plaza Nueva with several entrances and exits. Behind it passed the Darro that gave coolness to the houses that overlooked the river. He adds that there were other shops and industries there and, I quote, “This street, without its major deals in lingerie, silverware and jewelry and other different things, is visited by gentlemen and ladies, in whose jewelry stores they are offered many curious things. The frequency of gentlemen and women, both natives and foreigners, is so great that it is a matter of state to walk him two or three times a day, which they call zacatinada.”
Jewels belonging to the treasure of Bentarique
Nasrid jewelry has its most brilliant representation in the treasures of Bentarique (Almería), Mondújar (Granada) -both in the National Archaeological Museum- and Berchules –currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art from New York. They constitute the maximum expression of Nasrid jewelry, which together with that of the Mamluk period in Syria, stand out among that of other territories of the Islamic world. All these treasures appeared by chance, so it is not easy to propose the location of a specific workshop from which these jewels came, more important for their technical brilliance than for the amount of gold used, always in very fine sheets. The inscription on one of the bracelets found in Mondújar indicates its manufacturing in Granada, where there should be workshops. The style responds to fairly similar conventions, so scholars seem to agree that they must have been made during the Islamic domination of Al-Andalus, although, as we have already pointed out, artisans continued to make jewels “Moorish style” once the territory was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs. In the same way that the potters inherited the decorative molds of their ancestors, the filigree passed from generation to generation with little change.
Mondújar Treasure Necklace
The importance of the use of jewelery by women throughout the Islamic domination in Spain is given by the Little treasures found in the Emirate and Caliphate times (Garrucha, Loja, Cortijo de la Mora, Charilla, Ermita Nueva, Medina Elvira). The recipients were, in general, rich young women who received them as an ornament or as a wedding gift.
Bérchules treasure necklace
The techniques used will range from the openwork sheet to the filigree or the granules. The strings stand out, with small aljofares (pearls) or pins, usually with decorated pendants. Pearls enjoyed a huge reputation for female adornment at the time and were considered a symbol of purity in the Muslim world.
Ring from our collection "Alhambra" with ataurique decorative motifs
AL ANDALUS: Islamic arts in Spain. Grenada, 1992.
Rodrigo AMADOR DE LOS RÍOS: “Report of the Arabian jewels found in 1896”, Bulletin of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, XIX, 1899, p. 6-21.
José María CAPARRÓS: "Privilege of the Catholic Monarchs over frankness and liberties of the residents of the city of Granada, given in Segovia on September 4, 1503", Magazine of the Center for Historical Studies of Granada and its Kingdom, Volume II, Granada, 1912, pgs. 24-37.
Miguel GARRIDO ATIENZA: “Documents and news from Granada. The Albayzin”, The Alhambra, 7, 1904, p. 267-268.
Manuel GÓMEZ MORENO: “Arab jewels of the Catholic queen”, Al Andalus, VIII, Archaeological Chronicle of Muslim Spain, 1943, p. 473-476.
Francisco HENRIQUEZ DE JORQUERA: “The streets of Granada in the XNUMXth century”, The Alhambra, I, 1898, p. 202-204.
IBN AL-KHATIB: History of the kings of the Alhambra. The glow of the full moon of the Nasrid dynasty, preliminary study by Emilio Molina López, translation by J. María Casciaro and E, Molina, Granada, 1988 and 2010.
Popular jewelry. Museum of the Spanish people. National Archaeological Museum. Madrid, 1984. Department of Prehistory and Archaeology, University of Granada
Jeronimo MUNZER: Travel through Spain and Portugal. Kingdom of Grenada. Introduction by Manuel Espinar Moreno, Granada, 2008.
Francis Xavier SIMONET: Description of the Kingdom of Granada under the domination of the Naserites, taken from the Arab authors, and followed by the unpublished text of Mohammed ebn Aljathib, by..., Atlas Editions, Madrid, 1982.
Francisco de Paula VALLADAR Y VALDIVIA: “The gold seekers”,
The Alhambra, VIII, 1905, p. 146-149.