A prolegomena to a new study of ornament : architecture as embodied ornament in the Great Mosque of Córdoba

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Luber, Diana Winfield

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This thesis argues for a new theory of ornament as embodied. The argument for a new theory of embodied ornament responds to and rejects canonical notions of ornament as an applied, decorative skin. Rather, it argues for an embodied ornament that is inextricable from the structure and subjectivity of an object. The thesis engages with the canon of literature around ornament, focusing largely on its interpretation and role in Islamic contexts. Further, it integrates new approaches to understanding Islamic art that emphasize perception, ambiguity, and allusion. The application of these new approaches to a reading of ornament opens new avenues of inquiry and interpretive potential. The case study for this new theory of ornament is the Great Mosque of Córdoba, which was founded in AD 786 in al-Andalus (modern day Spain) by the Umayyad amir ‘Abd al-Rahman I. The horseshoe arch, with its alternating red and white voussoirs, is the elemental form of the embodied architectural program. The combination of the potential for infinite repetition of the arch with the constraint of its own form combine to create an ornamental program that is embodied in the structure of the mosque itself. This theory of a living, ever-evolving ornament tracks the development of the program across developments in the building as the embodied program morphs and mutates over time. The historical breadth of the thesis is extensive, tracking the evolution of the ornamental program from its founding in AD 786 to the insertion of a Gothic cathedral in the mosque by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the beginning of the 16th century. It considers the continuity of the ornamental program through the Christian afterlife of the building. The discussion of afterlives concludes with a consideration of the continuation of the embodied ornamental program across temporal and geographic boundaries, using the kingdom of Zaragoza as an example. Finally, the thesis concludes with a consideration of the implications of a new theory of ornament for future scholarship



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