||Stone is set within stone, as bold and precise as the dark spot within the tulip's heart. Those red and yellow flowers that dispel the heart's grief... download to listen: 28k, 56k, ISDN*
In Persian poetry and in the Koran, flowers are often described as springing from the waters of Paradise itself. Although geometric motifs are also used in the Taj complex, floral designs are predominant. Bas-relief sprays of flowers are sculpted in the white marble, and floral tendrils meander over every surface. Symbolic of the bounty promised to the Mohammedan faithful, floral designs are the hallmark of Mughal decorative style. "The inlaying of stone into stone is an ancient Indian tradition," says art historian Milo Beach. "The inlaying of many different kinds of colored stones in intricate patterns that depict flowers is something that was developed late in the reign of Shah Jahan's father, Jahangir, and came into maturity under Shah Jahan himself."
Europeans have often claimed credit for perfecting this art form, but inlay work was used much earlier in India. "We've got buildings from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries where this inlay work was begun," adds art historian Shobita Punja. "The artisans started by using ceramic tiles, and then precious stones, and by the seventeenth century, of course, the Mughals had perfected the style."
It is also possible that Shah Jahan may have invited European craftsmen to his court to teach a more sophisticated technique to Mughal artists.
"A lot of the floral designs that one sees at the Taj are of individual plants," continues Beach, "isolated like specimen plants, sometimes with the roots exposed, or growing out of a little hillock, and sometimes with a bug or a butterfly hovering above. This treatment comes directly out of European books that we call 'herbals,' which are encyclopedias of plants that were printed in Antwerp in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries
and came to India with the traders and missionaries. The Mughals became interested in them because they were interested in ways to depict plants, and they adapted some of them and developed a new vocabulary which is the vocabulary of plants created at the Taj."
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