Fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions

James Cavanagh Murphy1815

Museu de les Aigües

Museu de les Aigües
Cornellà de Llobregat , Spain

In the late 18th century, the purpose of traveling was considered to be the opportunity to learn about the customs, tastes, art, science, industry and, in general, the knowledge of other nations and peoples.

James Cavanah (Cavanagh) Murphy (ca. 1760-1814) was an Irish architect, surveyor and artist who, feeling that his art was undervalued in England and influenced by writers and artists who had traveled to Andalusia in the aforementioned spirit, went to Cádiz in 1802 and, from there, traveled to Málaga, Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada. He spent seven years living in Spain, analyzing Andalusian architecture and the Andalusian culture of the time. In Granada he visited the Alhambra. He took measurements of different areas and made numerous drawings that reproduce unique Alhambra spaces as well as a good number of ornamental details of the Nasrid monument. In 1815, a year after his death, two volumes of his work The Arabian Antiquities of Spain and 98 plates with drawings were published.

The drawings he made reflect coldness, lack of authenticity and understanding, becoming a caricature of Nasrid Art. According to Leopoldo Torres Balbás:
“The plates of the work he published show even more incomprehension in the interpretation of Muslim decorations than the Spanish neoclassical ones. It seems that his pencil refuses to follow the graceful curves of the floral ornaments and the repeated festoons of the arches; his drawings are cold, spiritless, false. An excellent example is the engraving in which he reproduces the wooden frieze and the eaves of the gallery of the Patio de los Leones. Entitled Entablature, Murphy forces the drawing, interpreting it falsely, to make us remotely recall a classical arrangement”.

The engraving Fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions, Alhambra shows the famous Fountain of the Lions. The decoration of the plaster panels on the columns in the courtyard is an example of what Torres Balbás claimed. Although the diamond-shaped, sebka decoration can be intuited, there is only a vague hint of the epigraphy on the cartouches. Neither are the arabesques or plant motif decorations recognizable. There is no trace of the wood used to finish off the vertical facing. My attention is drawn to the athletic bodies of the lions and the double bowl of the fountain spraying a great jet of water towards the sky. The sky becomes its container, so the color of this water is sky-blue Alhambra.


  • Title: Fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions
  • Creator: James Cavanagh Murphy
  • Date: 1815
  • Location: Granada, Spain
  • Type: Engraving
  • Original Source: Private Collection
  • Medium: Handmade engraving

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