A Handbook to Agra and the Taj eBook

Ernest Binfield Havel
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 98 pages of information about A Handbook to Agra and the Taj.

The art of inlaying stone had been practised in India for many years before this building; but here, for the first time, do we find the inlayers making attempts at direct imitation of Persian pottery decoration.  All the familiar motifs of Persian art, the tree of life and other floral types, the cypress tree, the flower-vases, fruits, wine-cups, and rose-water vessels are here reproduced exactly as they are found in Persian mosaic tiles.  In Shah Jahan’s palace and in the Taj they went a step further, and imitated the more naturalistic treatment of Persian fresco painting and other pictorial art; but there is never the slightest suggestion of European design in the decoration of these buildings.

It is quite possible that some Italians may have shown the native inlayers specimens of Florentine pietra dura, and suggested to them this naturalistic treatment, but if Italians or other Europeans had been engaged to instruct or supervise in the decoration of these buildings they would certainly have left some traces of their handiwork.  In the technical part of the process the Indian workmen had nothing to learn, and in the design they made no attempt to follow European forms, except in the one solitary instance of the decoration of the throne-chamber of the Delhi Palace, which is much later in date than Itmad-ud-daulah’s tomb. [13]

The whole scheme of the exterior decoration is so finely carried out, both in arrangement and colour, that its extreme elaboration produces no effect of unquietness.  At a distance it only gives a suggestion of a soft bloom or iridescence on the surface of the marble.  The soffits of the doorways are carved with extraordinary delicacy.  Inside the building there are remains of fresco and other painted decoration.

Beautifully placed on the river bank, there is a fine little mosque, which at sunset makes a charming picture.  The boldness and greater simplicity of the decoration contrast well with the richness of that of the mausoleum.

The Chini-ka-Rauza

Beyond Itmad-ud-daulah’s tomb, on the same side of the river, is a beautiful ruin, once entirely covered with the same Persian mosaic tile-work, which suggested the more costly style of decoration in inlaid marble.  It is called Chini-ka-Rauza, or the China Tomb, and is supposed to be the mausoleum of Afzal Khan, a Persian poet, who entered the service of Jahangir, and afterwards became Prime Minister to Shah Jahan.  He died in Lahore in 1639.  The weather and ill-treatment of various kinds have removed a great deal of the exquisite enamel colours from the tiles, but enough remains to indicate how rich and magnificent the effect must have been originally.  A part of the south facade which has fallen in shows how the builders employed earthen pots to lessen the weight of the concrete filling, a practice followed in the ancient dome construction of Egypt and Rome.

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A Handbook to Agra and the Taj from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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