Published Sep 19 2013, by

Upper Floors of the Façade of a Haveli or Private Palace


The architecture of the Mughal period (1526–1857) is characterized by a complex synthesis of native Indian forms, media, and iconography with Islamic-inspired geometric designs and natural motifs. The most readily identifiable example of this fusion is the Taj Mahal—a remarkable stone edifice constructed by Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–1658) in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal—which embodies the key components of Mughal architecture that were to have such a profound influence on the development of regional styles across India.

Rajasthan, and particularly the Jaipur area where this façade probably stood over two centuries ago, developed its own regional architectural style favoring a reddish gray sandstone as the primary building material. The surface decoration of this façade is preeminently architectural, its beautiful ornamentation of pure geometry rendered from stone slabs as sets of jalis (openwork or lattice screening), seen in the balcony railing, and half-jalis (the main decorative blocks of stone cut to two-thirds of the slab’s depth to reveal a relief of light and shadow). Pillars and brackets carry fully sculpted lotus clusters, the only reference to the natural world in an otherwise purely linear design. The central arch, a feature imported from the Islamic world, is set inside the portal with smaller flanking arches, each having doors of ironwood, a durable and long-lasting material. Only the central arch bears an overhang with adjacent rainspouts. This was the entrance; the other five “doorways” probably served as apertures for light and air circulation. Hundreds of skilled stone craftsmen would have been involved in making the individual components that constitute this residential façade. After each unit was finished, it was assembled, stone by stone, according to the architectural design, and then plastered in the interstices.

This façade came from a haweli, a residential building complex, but not a palace, with one or more open courtyards. Often these courtyards would enclose formal gardens, a favorite refuge for the Muslim rulers and the general populace throughout the Mughal period and into the present. The jalis served an additional social role for Muslim women—who were not permitted to appear in public—by allowing them to see the outside world without being seen. The universal appeal of this type of abstract patterning and the soft color of the stone as a whole is not only a testament to the skill of the artists who created this work, but also a reminder of the intimate role that architecture played in the everyday life of India during this remarkable phase of its history.

The massive weight of this monumental stone façade, a favorite work of the late Clarence Shangraw, is supported by an architecturally reinforced floor, designed, originally, to support the display of a locomotive railcar at Trammell Crow Center.

On view in Grand Gallery