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The New Mexican's Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture Thursday, July 24, 2014

More orientalism in Santa Fe

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Posted: Friday, October 4, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 5:53 pm, Tue Oct 15, 2013.

The Scottish Rite building in Santa Fe opened to great fanfare on Nov. 16, 1912. Its architecture evokes the Alhambra, the fortified hilltop palace and administrative headquarters of Muhammad XII, or Boabdil as he is referred to in Spanish, who was the 22nd Nasrid ruler of the Islamic kingdom of Granada. The imposing tower over the main entrance is modeled after the Gate of Justice, and other spaces draw from the Palace of the Lions and the Partal. A short article in the society section of The New Mexican the same day noted that the Alhambra was a symbol of the beauty and romance of Old Spain and continued that several persons described the new building as entirely foreign to Santa Fe. But the writer disagreed, noting that Moorish-style architecture could be considered the grandsire of New Mexico architecture. Finally, the article stated that the entire building is tinted in the soft pink of the original Alhambra.

Every Scottish Rite temple features a theater, since the main function of these structures is to provide a space to confer the degrees to the brethren. References to Islamic art and architecture can be found in the theater at Santa Fe’s Scottish Rite building. The proscenium is flanked by modeled stucco star designs common in Islamic decoration. And similar forms cover the pipe organ. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the theater is the 20-by-30-foot front curtain drop, with a scene of Granada as viewed from the Alhambra. At the right is the Islamic city, while at left we can see the tent-city headquarters of the troops of Ferdinand and Isabella. Writing in The New Mexican on Nov. 20, 1912, Nan O’Neill discussed the drop curtain and how it depicted the original Santa Fe in Granada, a town connected to the Spanish discovery and conquest of the New World, and eventually to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was to Santa Fe, Granada, that Columbus came to tell the Spanish monarchs of his discoveries in America. In addition to the Granada scene, the theater also has almost 100 different hanging drops, with scenes used in the Scottish Rite degrees, from forest scenes to Egyptian temples and the Palace of Darius at Persepolis, from the Temple of Solomon to Gothic cathedral interiors. In 2007, Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, a stage-set historian and conservator, completed an appraisal of the Scottish Rite drops. She noted that they were all painted in Chicago in 1910 and 1911 by Sosman & Landis, a firm that specialized in fraternal stage drops. The decoration of the theater was completed in 1915, with the addition of J.G. Vysekel’s painting above the proscenium, as well as with the painted decorations above the columns at the theater sides and the 32 electric stars, one for each Scottish Rite degree, set into the field of clouds painted on the ceiling. A front-page article in The New Mexican on Jan. 9, 1915 noted that the Santa Fe firm of Seligman Bros. (several masons among them) was directing the work, and that Vysekel’s painting, in six sections, had arrived from Chicago and was stretched out on the floor of the Scottish Rite dining hall for all to admire. The painting shows the capitulation of Boabdil to Ferdinand and Isabella, the end of the last battle of the Christian Reconquista of Spain. The painting is related to, but not an exact copy of, La Rendición de Granada by Francisco Pradilla y Ortíz (1882) in the collection of the Spanish Senate in Madrid, which is itself modeled on Velázquez’s La Rendición de Breda (1634-1635).

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