The flower style associated with the height of Mughal aesthetics and refinement finds expression in this pair of carved wood doors. The depiction of complete flowering plants, carved in low relief and placed in a symmetrical arrangement, is the hallmark of this style, which had its genesis in the reign of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605–27). In accordance with their patrons' interests, artists of this period studied European herbals, borrowing the techniques of combining front and side views and infusing the petals and leaves of the plants with a sense of movement. During the reign of Jahangir's son Shah Jahan (1627–58), and especially from the 1630s on, the plant studies were transformed into decorative motifs, arranged in rows to cover textiles, objects, and architectural spaces. As they were incorporated into stylized, symmetrically balanced compositions like those on the carved dadoes and inlaid panels at the Taj Mahal, the plants lost their botanical specificity. The use of wood was limited in Mughal architecture, and little of it remains. These doors are thus rare survivals of a tradition known through only a few other examples, including a pair of similar doors in the David Collection, Copenhagen.
The flower style associated with the height of Mughal taste finds expression in this pair of carved-wood doors with alternating square and rectangular panels that have cusped cartouches enclosing flowering plants. A frieze of stylized leaf motifs borders the top and outer edges of the doors, and individual floral medallions decorate the astragal(?) that covers their junction. The doors turn on hooks that extend from iron straps attached across each leaf and fit into sockets on the surrounding frame; they probably also had pivots at the bottom, now missing.
The use of complete flowering plants as a decorative motif appears to have had its genesis in works on paper produced during the reign of Jahangir (r. 1605–27). In 1620 the emperor requested that his artist Mansur paint the many types of flowers he observed in Kashmir (see also MMA no. 1970.321). The three surviving studies by Mansur show such strong affinities with European botanical studies that it is very likely that he and the other Mughal artists who later took up this theme were using them as a model. Herbals known to have been presented by European visitors to the Mughal court are usually identified as the source of inspiration. Flowering plants were also used to decorate the borders of album pages—and for these another source has been recently suggested, namely, royal English charters, which were also decorated with flowering plants.
Sometime during the reign of Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58), the plant studies were transformed into decorative motifs and arranged in rows to cover textiles, carpets, luxury objects, and architectural spaces. Individual plants carved in low relief are found in several buildings at the Agra Fort (such as the Mussaman Burj, the Shah Burj, the Diwan-i Khas, and on the jharoka of the Diwan-i ‘Am) as well as in the tomb, mosque, and Mihman Khana of the Taj Mahal complex. Such features were also found at the contemporary palaces of the Rajput royal families, including the Shish Mahal at the Amber Fort. Doors with this motif are rare, however, perhaps known only from one other example in the David Collection, Copenhagen.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. This connection was first made in Skelton, Robert. “A Decorative Motif in Mughal Art.” In Aspects of Indian Art: Papers Presented in a Symposium at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 1970, edited by Pratapaditya Pal, pp. 147–52. Leiden, 1972. Vivian Rich later identified the European books known to be in India during the period of Jahangir in Rich, Vivian A. “Mughal Floral Painting and Its European Sources.” Oriental Art, n.s., 33, no. 2 (Summer 1987), pp. 183–89.
2. Brend, Barbara. “On the Borders: A Possible Source for Naturalistic Floral Decoration at the Mughal Court.” In Arts of Mughal India: Studies in Honour of Robert Skelton, edited by Rosemary Crill, Susan Stronge, and Andrew Topsfield, pp. 138–40. London and Ahmedabad, 2004.
3. Veronica Murphy, however, has suggested that the use of the flowering-plant motif on textiles may have been fashionable from the time of Jahangir, if not earlier (Murphy, Veronica. Vastra, the Fabric of Indian Art: Origins of the Mughal Flowering Plant Motif. London, 1987). For a discussion in relation to carpet design, see Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era. Exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Catalogue by Daniel Walker. New York, 1997, pp. 87–117.
4. For the transfer of this motif to architecture, see Koch, Ebba. The Complete Taj Mahal and the Riverfront Gardens of Agra. London, 2006, pp. 218–19.
5. David Collection, no. 15 /1987.
William K. Ehrenfeld, San Francisco (until about 2002; sold to McInerney); [ Terence McInerney, New York, about 2002–4; sold to Plotnick]; Harvey and Elizabeth Plotnick, Chicago (2004–9; gifted to MMA)
"A Selection: 2008–2010." Recent Acquisitions vol. 68, no. 2 (Fall 2010). p. 34.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 259, pp. 340, 369-370, ill. p. 370 (color).
Date: late 17th–early 18th centuryMedium: Container: gold; pierced, repoussé, with cast legs and finials
Goa stone: compound of organic and inorganic materialsAccession: 2004.244a–dOn view in:Gallery 463