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India, c. 1630-1650 or first half of the 17th century
Red sandstone, openwork and engraved decoration
H. 1.23 m; W. 1.02 m
Musée du Louvre, DAI, acquired 2005
Summers can be exceedingly hot in Islamic lands; consequently, from an early date openings in buildings were partially closed by means of open-work coverings made from stone, stucco, ceramic, or wood. These coverings were commonly known as claustra after the Romans, and subsequently came to be called moucharabiehs in the Arab world and jali in India. From as early as the Umayyad dynasty, such coverings were placed on the windows of mosques and palaces. In Mughal India they were used in public audience halls for sectioning off people according to their status. The two great Mughal emperors Akbar and Shah Jahan made considerable use of these both functional and decorative jalis.
This jali includes an arcade consisting of nine lobes which merges into the lattice design covering most of the panel. The arcade is reminiscent of those to be seen on numerous buildings dating from the reign of Shah Jahan, including, for example, the Diwan-i Khas in Delhi. Beneath the arcade there is a lattice of high relief quadrants, and each of the mandorlas contains a symmetrical bouquet consisting of three flowers with curved petals. The sculpture of this jali is outstanding, both for the number of different planes in which the relief is carved and for the complexity and delicacy of the details. Such quality of execution which is also to be seen on the reverse suggests that the work should be dated to the great period of Shah Jahan. This dating is moreover corroborated by the decor: the floral network organized in quincunx was a decor that was greatly favored during this period and which was used to embellish a wide variety of supports, including windows, carpets, textiles and book margins.
The general structure of this jali is similar to that of a number of examples from Bharatpur in Rajasthan. They had been taken there when the confederation of the Jats sacked Agra in 1761, and took the booty to adorn the palace of Raja Suraj Mall.