The Mosque of Córdoba

The Mosque of Córdoba. Arthur Melville ARSA RSW (1855–1904). Watercolour, 7 x 9½ inches; 17.8 x 24.2 cm Signed and dated July 1890, inscribed ‘Cordoba.’ Provenance: Private Collection, Scotland. On loan from a Private Collection, Scotland.

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Commentary by Kenneth McConkey

In the early nineties, Melville explored Spain, North Africa and Northern Italy, returning on each occasion with a treasure trove of sketches, mostly in watercolour. Sometimes these small vivid notes were worked up into larger pieces. In the present case, the painter records a street in the approaches to the great mosque at Córdoba, an eighth century structure, considered, at the turn of the twentieth century, one of the wonders of the world. It attracted many Orientalist painters and its endless columns and arches were depicted more than once by Gérôme. It was however the sleepy ambiance of the city that attracted Melville in the present work. This was a place like Tangier, renowned for its white-washed buildings, described by the Edwardian ‘hispanist’ and travel writer, C. Gasquoine Hartley as a ‘city in sleep’:

it rests in a quiet and beautiful dream. Here the Eastern spirit of acceptance echoes with unsilenced voice. And this is why the sensitive stranger will find such perfect satisfaction in the white city’s sleeping peace. [Hartley 105]

Melville, in July 1890, was just such a stranger.


Hartley, C. Gasquoine. Things seen in Spain. London: Seeley, Service and Co., 1912.

McConkey, Kenneth. Lavery and the Glasgow Boys. Exhibition Catalogue. Clandeboye, County Down: The Ava Gallery; Edinburgh: Bourne Fine Art; London: The Fine Art Society, 2013. No. 10.

Last modified 4 October 2011