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In: Envisioning Islamic Art and Architecture

Whereas reliance on official texts such as chronicles often leads modern historians to overlook women, the built works of female patrons can provide a valuable historical source because they stand publicly for female patrons who were themselves unseen. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine Damascus and Cairo without the visually prominent tombs and pious foundations of the otherwise invisible Fatimid and Ayyubid women. Among the latter was Shajar al-Durr, a Turkic concubine who rose from slavery to become the legitimate sultan of Egypt in 1250. Her short reign and subsequent marriage ended violently with her death in 1257, but in that space of time she made architectural innovations that ultimately inspired lasting changes in Cairo’s urban fabric. Shajar al-Durr’s impact as architectural patron was as pivotal as her political role: the tomb that she added to her husband’s madrasa led to his permanent and highly visible presence in central Cairo, an innovation that was followed in the endowed complexes of the Mamluks. In her own more modest tomb, she chose not monumentality but iconography, representing herself pictorially in dazzling mosaic, a daring gesture in a world where female propriety meant invisibility.

In: Muqarnas Online
In: Muqarnas Online

The Rajput princes of South Asia in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries built beautiful palaces with gardens and commissioned manuscript paintings that rivaled those of their Mughal contemporaries.  Although the Hindu Rajputs and Muslim Mughals were variously allies and foes, neither political relations nor religious faith prevented artistic exchanges from occurring between them. Just as the Mughals embraced and internalized Indic forms such as the chhatri, the Rajputs likewise appropriated forms such as the four-part garden known as the chahar bagh, not as a direct transfer but a reworking and renegotiation of form and expression. While the Rajput chahar baghs are the only ones to have attracted the attention of historians, most likely because they fit neatly into a recognized architectural type, Rajput patrons also built other kinds of gardens with rectilinear and curving parterres, deep pools with “floating” pavilions, lotus gardens, and orchards resembling sacred groves. Some of these appear in Mughal sites too, typically inserted into a chahar bagh. The essay looks at how typological forms were shared and adapted by the Mughals and Rajputs, and asks what such forms may have meant to their respective patrons. It concludes by proposing that the definition of art historical fields—divided along religious lines between Islam and Hinduism—often impedes such inquiries.

In: Muqarnas Online