January 20: Death of an Emperor, Birth of an Architecture

2016/01/20 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1556 Humayun died.

The second Mughal emperor, Humayun (b. 1508) died in the most admirable of accidental self-inflicted ways, reportedly tripping as he knelt in response to hearing the call to prayer–even though he was on a staircase with his arms full of books.  Devout in religion, assiduous in his studies, Humayun was an important force in the development of Mughal architecture.  As the empire spread (ultimately) to cover contemporary India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, it also synthesized a great variety of aesthetic influences: Persian, Muslim, Indian and other traditions blended into a manner of building noted for strong prismatic volumes with chamfered corners, ogee-arched openings in flat screens, panel-like treatment of surfaces bordered by contrasting materials, broad flat and curved planes marked off by delicate projecting relief sculpture and glittering inlays; all of it surmounted by squat chhatri pavilions and bulbous, slightly pointed domes.

The tomb of Humayun in Delhi (1562, above) is the first signature monument of Mughal architecture.  The monument, and the man, set the tone for generations of art and architecture that ornamented and celebrated the empire:  Humayun’s son,  Akbar, expanded the empire and followed in his father’s artistic footsteps, directing the compilation of the brilliant Akbarnāma; Akbar’s son Jahangir became a great connoisseur and collected both Muslim and Christian art (during the period in the west known as the Renaissance); Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan would build one of the most famous buildings of Islam and India.  If you don’t know what that is, stay tuned!

image: Tomb of Humayun by Art Poskanzer (from this source)


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