The wonder of watercolours

July is World Watercolour Month, a 31-day charitable event aimed at promoting the joy of the art of watercolours and arts education.

To celebrate the wonder of watercolours, Special Collections shares items from a small series of watercolour paintings of architecture in India. Dating from the early to mid-nineteenth century, these possibly were created in preparation for a work on architecture.

Taj Mahal from the river [MS288/1]

Located on the banks of the Yamuna river, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction started in 1632 and was completed in 1648. Subsequent buildings, including the mosque, the main gateway on the south, the outer courtyard and its cloisters, were added later. The marble of the tomb, which is the centre of focus, stands in contrast with the red sandstone of surrounding buildings. Decorative elements were created by using paint, stucco, stone inlays or carving.

Gate opposite the river, by which you enter the garden [MS288/2]

The gardens reflected the intricate melding of nature and religion. Every portion was meticulously planned and based on four or multiples of four which is the holiest number in Islam. They also were designed to the idea of Charbagh – the idea of a Paradise Garden. This was in keeping with ancient Persian Timurid gardens which filled the gardens with symbolic shapes and plantings.

View of gardens from Taj Mahal towards gate opposite the river [MS288/3]

The ground plan of the Taj Mahal is composed in perfect balance and the domed chamber, housing the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, is a perfect octagon.

Interior view of vaulted dome over the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan [MS288/8]

The octagonal marble lattice screen encircling both cenotaphs is highly polished and richly decorated with inlay work. The borders of the frames are inlaid with precious stones representing flowers.

Detail of flower design [MS288/12]

For further details of watercolours and art in the Special Collections why not check out other blogs on the notable art of watercolours or Heywood Sumner: artist and archaeologist.

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