A screen for filtering light through a window, this panel is carved with two strikingly lively geometric designs, one set within the other.
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Title:Pierced Window Screen (Jali)
Date:early 17th century
Geography:Attributed to India
Dimensions:H. 48 7/16 in. (123 cm) W. 26 1/2 in. (67.3 cm) D. 2 3/4 in. (7 cm) Wt. 213 lbs. (96.6 kg)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1984
Pierced stone screens were useful and appealing Indian architectural elements long before the Mughal period. They cast mysterious, ever changing patterns of light and shade as the sun moved by day or lantern bearers passed by night. Practical, too, jalis allowed gentle breezes to flow, cooling in the summer and warming in the cold season; and they gave a degree of privacy. At court, where intrigue and flirtatiousness flourished, their peepholes catalyzed guards, servants, the amorously bold, and the coy.
Architects and stonecutters, with ingenuity and skill, created jalis in a great variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns, which can be dated decade by decade. Those made for Akbar at Fatchpur-Sikri, for instance, are ruggedly geometric, masterly cut but powerfully simple; while Jahangir's gained in refinement, delicacy, and precision, at the same time retaining Akbari might. Shah Jahan preferred floral and arabesque motifs, virtuosic and graceful (see Kronos Collections, New York, no. 164 in this volume).
Zigzagging diagonals in the present example set up a powerful waving rhythm that sets spinning the interlocking rosettes and crosses. Like all excellent jalis, this one encourages the eye and mind to roam, and to discover the idiosyncratic, inner repertoire of forms. It was cut from a large slab of makrana marble quarried near Jaipur, and it can be dated on the basis of identically patterned red sandstone windows in Akbar's tomb at Sikandra. That splendid complex was commissioned by Jahangir and visited by him during the third regnal year. Considering the ambiguity of feeling between the father and son, it is particularly interesting to read the latter's comments in the Tuzuk: "I went on foot [probably from Agra, a distance of five miles] on my pilgrimage to the enlightened mausoleum of the late King. If it had been possible, I would have traversed this road with my eyelashes and head. My revered father, on account of my birth, had gone on foot on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Khwaja Mu'in ud-Din Sanjari Chishti, from Fathpur to Ajmir, a distance of 120 kos [about 200 miles]: if I should traverse this road with my head and eyes, what should I have done? When I was dignified with the good fortune of making this pilgrimage, I saw the building that had been erected in the cemetery. It did not come up to my idea of what it ought to be, for that would be approved which the wayfarers of the world should point to as one the like of which was not in the inhabited world. Inasmuch as at the time of erecting the aforesaid building the affair of the ill-starred Khusrau took place, I started for Lahore, and the architects had built it after a design of their own. At last ... a large sum was expended, and work went on for three or four years. I ordered that experienced architects should again lay the foundations ... on a settled plan. By degrees, a lofty building was erected, and a very bright garden was arranged round the building of the shrine, and a large and lofty gateway with minarets of white stone was built. On the whole they told me the cost of this lofty edifice was 1,500,000 rupees.'' 
It is likely that the Metropolitan Museum jali was made for Jahangir's private apartments in Agra Fort, a section of the palace replaced by order of Shah Jahan. Architectural elements of this quality, satisfying in themselves as sculpture, suggest the character and quality of Mughal buildings. Presumably, this jali was stored in Agra Fort until, after Mughal power had weakened during the second half of the eighteenth century, it was carried away by looters.
1. Jahangir. The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri; or Memoirs of Jahangiri, Trans. Alexander Rogers. Ed. Henry Beveridge. London, 1909–14, vol. 1, pp. 151–52.
Private collection, England; [ John Lawrence Fine Arts Inc., London, until 1984; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "INDIA !," September 14–September 14, 1985, no. 120.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 42 (1984–1985). p. 8, ill. (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. India: Art and Culture 1300–1900. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985. no. 120, pp. 191–93, ill. p. 192 (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 139–40, ill. fig. 107 (color).
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