Shah Jahan's "shamsa," or rosette design
Rosette (Shamsa) bearing the name and titles of the Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58). Illuminated page or Shamsa (recto) / calligraphy (verso), 17th century; Mughal. Ink, colors, and gold on paper; 15 3/16 x 10 7/16 in. (38.6 x 26.5 cm). Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955 (220.127.116.11). From the Metropolitan Museum collection.
A "shamsa" (literally, "sun") traditionally opened imperial
Worked in bright colors and several tones of gold, the
and painted arabesques are enriched by fantastic flowers, birds,
The inscription in the center in the "tughra" ("handsign") style
"His Majesty Shihabuddin Muhammad Shahjahan, the king, warrior of
may God perpetuate his kingdom and sovereignty." (W. M. Thackston,
Emperors' Album*, with the shamsa and much other detailed
information, downloadable for free!
Source: Stuart Cary Welch, Imperial Mughal Painting. New York: George Braziller, 1978. Image: Plate 30, p. 99. FWP scan, Aug. 2001.
Commentary by Stuart Cary Welch, p. 98:
"This was the opening page to an album of calligraphies and miniatures assembled for Shah Jahan....But unlike Jahangir, whose ideas on painting differed from those of his father, Shah Jahan encouraged artists to continue painting as they had for his father. His pictures, therefore, are sometimes difficult to differentiate from Jahangir's, although their colors tend to be more jewel-like, and their mood is usually more restrained.
A serious collector of gems, many of which he ordered set into his renowned Peacock Throne, Shah Jahan insisted upon opulent perfection in everything he commissioned. The workmanship and sumptuous color of the rosette by a specially trained illuminator rather than figure painter, as well as its nobly designed calligraphic inscription, bring together qualities of architecture, jewelry, and painting. Indeed, this glorious design might be considered the embodiment of the verses inscribed in the emperor's Delhi Audience Hall, "If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here."
Such mathematically abstract and cerebral arabesque designs bring
mind the Mandalas of Buddhism and Hinduism,
for meditation. Here, the center of the composition can be
as the pivot upon which all turns, the axis connecting the
world with those above and below.. It is no accident that Shah
titles are inscribed at the center of this heavenly image. As if
its celestial spirit, magnificent golden phoenixes, or simurghs,
birds soar round the central figure."
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