The Mughal Suite is located at the end of a private hall extending from the central courtyard and includes a bedroom, large dressing area, bathroom, seating area composed of marble screens on the rooftop above (the Jali Pavilion), and private garden. Appropriately, it is located next to the Mughal Garden, a space equally inspired by Doris Duke’s (1912–93) travels in the Indian subcontinent.
The history of the Mughal Suite predates the history of Shangri La. During her 1935 honeymoon travels in India, Duke became enamored by Mughal art, particularly architecture dating to the reign of India’s three “great” emperors, Akbar (r. 1556–1605), Jahangir (r. 1605–27), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58). After visiting the marble tombs, palaces, mosques and gardens of cities like Agra and Delhi, Duke decided to create a Mughal-inspired bedroom suite for her home, which was then planned to be a newlywed wing on the grounds of El Mirasol, the Palm Beach home of her mother-in-law Eva Stotesbury. The Cromwells (Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell) soon enlisted the Delhi-based British architect Francis B. Blomfield to oversee the creation of a marble suite inspired by seventeenth-century Mughal monuments, including the Taj Mahal (from 1632) in Agra and the Red Fort (1639–48) in Delhi. The actual marble work—including seven large door jalis (perforated marble screens) for the bedroom and four small window jalis and a dado (lower wall) with inlaid floral patterns for the bathroom, among other things—was sub-contracted to the India Marble Works firm in Agra, with Blomfield serving as chief designer and quality control.
In August 1935, the Cromwells arrived in Hawai‘i and soon thereafter abandoned the idea of living in Palm Beach in favor of building a new home on the southern shore of O‘ahu. The marble commission was well underway by this point, but its plans were readily transferrable to the Hawaiian context. The suite was completed in late 1938, and the Cromwells moved in on Christmas Day of that year. By that time, they had acquired a number of furnishings for the space, including inlaid mother-of-pearl Syrian chests (65.46) and tables; Roman- and Islamic-period Syrian glass (47.117); Persian-style figural paintings (11.1.1); and Central Asian embroideries, which served as bed quilts, pillow cases and wall coverings. Much of this material had been purchased during the Cromwells’ 1935 honeymoon and later during their 1938 Middle East tour. In ensuing years, the bedroom would become increasingly Indian in appearance, as Duke acquired a number of Indian textiles and carpets (81.12) whose red surfaces beautifully complemented the white marblework commissioned in 1935.
The history of the Mughal Suite underscores the importance of travel and patronage in the evolution of Shangri La. It was during her honeymoon trip that Duke first fell in love with Mughal architecture—and by extension Islamic art in general (the honeymoon also included brief visits to Jordan and Egypt). After realizing that the commissioned Mughal Suite would form the nucleus of their Hawaiian home, the Cromwells seem to have resolved to “Islamicize” the property as a whole and fill it with Islamic art collections. As early as January 1937, they began exploring Iranian architectural models, particularly those associated with the city of Isfahan. That May, they embarked on a week-long trip to Morocco, and the result was a second major act of patronage (the ordering of custom-made plaster and wood elements for the foyer and living room). By the time the Cromwells moved into the Mughal Suite in December 1938, Shangri La featured distinctly Indian, Moroccan, and Iranian architectural spaces, as well as furnishings and works of art from Central Asia, Egypt, Iran and Syria, among other places.
The private hall is located off the central courtyard and terminates in the Mughal Suite. It is comprised of two distinct spaces: an initial enclosed hallway with doors leading to various storage rooms, and a second arcaded lanai facing a private garden and ending with a mobile jali (perforated marble screen) leading into the suite.
To complement the Indian aesthetics of the Mughal Suite commissioned by Doris Duke (1912–93) and her husband James Cromwell in 1935, the arcade was originally comprised of Mughal-style cusped arches supported by baluster columns. In 1941, Duke purchased a number of Spanish Islamic works of art from the collection of William Randolph Hearst, including a group of six marble columns (41.62.1–6) made during the Nasrid period (1232–1492). Soon thereafter, these columns replaced the Indian-style ones, the arches above were transformed to look more Spanish, and the roof was covered in green roof tiles made in Morocco. The installation of a medieval Spanish door (64.41) and a c. 1921 Spanish tile panel (48.78) inscribed “Ave Maria Gracia Plena Dominus Tecum” completed the transformation from Indian to Spanish Mediterranean.
Standing within the arcade looking out, a beautiful small garden with a waterfall and koi pond is visible. The waterfall creates a soothing bubbling sound that can be heard from within the bathroom of the Mughal Suite. Looking back at the arcade from within the garden, one is reminded of the arcades found throughout medieval Spanish palaces, such as the Alhambra (mainly c. 1350–1400) in Granada.
The enclosed hallway as it appears today is predominately a product of the late 1970s. During this time, Doris Duke purchased a number of late-Ottoman (c. 1800) Syrian architectural elements from New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. While the majority of this painted and gilded wood, carved stonework, marble paneling, and inlaid pastework was installed in the Syrian Room to recreate an elite reception room known as a qa‘a (Arabic: hall), space constraints resulted in the dispersal of other elements throughout the property. The most cohesive installation is in the enclosed section of the private hall, where pastework and stonework arches (78.8), spandrels, and roundels frame a total of five doorways, and marble tiles comprise the floor (41.60). The three wood doors (64.40) on the left and right sides of the space are also likely Syrian. Their geometric surfaces of stars, pentagons, diamonds and rectangles inlaid with bone—and often framed by calligraphy (beautiful writing) above and below—are typical of late-Ottoman Syrian elite homes.
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design
Shangri La is a museum for Islamic arts and cultures, offering guided tours, residencies for scholars and artists, and programs with the purpose of improving understanding of the Islamic world. Built in 1937 as the Honolulu home of American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke (1912-1993), Shangri La was inspired by Duke’s extensive travels throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and reflects architectural traditions from India, Iran, Morocco and Syria.
The phrase “Islamic art” generally refers to arts that are products of the Muslim world, diverse cultures that historically extended from Spain to Southeast Asia. Beginning with the life of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632) and continuing to the present day, Islamic art has both a wide historical range and broad geographical spread, including North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and part of South and Southeast Asia as well as eastern and sub-Saharan Africa.
Visual Elements of Islamic Art. Islamic art covers a wide range of artistic production, from ceramic pots and silk carpets to oil paintings and tiled mosques. Given the tremendous diversity of Islamic art – across many centuries, cultures, dynasties and vast geography – what artistic elements are shared? Often, calligraphy (beautiful writing), geometry, and floral/vegetal design are seen as unifying visual components of Islamic art.
Calligraphy. The preeminence of writing in Islamic culture stems from the oral transmission of the word of God (Allah) to the Prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. This divine revelation was subsequently codified into a holy book written in Arabic, the Qur’an (recitation in Arabic). Beautiful writing became imperative for transcribing the word of God and for creating sacred Qur’ans. Calligraphy soon appeared in other forms of artistic production, including illuminated manuscripts, architecture, portable objects and textiles. Although the Arabic script is the crux of Islamic calligraphy, it was (and is) used to write a number of languages in addition to Arabic, including Persian, Urdu, Malay and Ottoman Turkish.
The content of the writing found on Islamic art varies according to context and function; it can include verses from the Qur’an (always Arabic) or from well-known poems (often Persian), the date of production, the signature of the artist, the names or marks of owners, the institution to which an object was presented as a charitable gift (waqf), praises to the ruler, and praises to the object itself. Calligraphy is also written in different scripts, somewhat analogous to type fonts or today’s computer fonts, and the most renowned artists in the Islamic tradition were those who invented, and excelled in, various scripts.
Geometry and Floral Design. In many examples of Islamic art, calligraphy is superimposed upon backgrounds covered in geometric patterns, floral motifs, and/or vegetal designs with curved leaf forms known as “arabesques.” The appearance of this surface decoration differs according to where and when an object was made; the forms of flowers in seventeenth-century Mughal India, Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran are quite different, for example. In addition, certain designs were favored in some places more than others; in North Africa and Egypt, bold geometry is often preferred over delicate floral patterns.
The Figure. Perhaps the least understood visual component of Islamic art is the figural image. Although the Qur’an prohibits the worship of images (idolatry)—a proscription stemming from the rise of Islam within a polytheistic tribal society in Mecca—it does not explicitly preclude the depiction of living beings. However, figural imagery is generally confined to secular architectural contexts—such as the palace or private home (rather than the mosque)—and the Qur’an is never illustrated.
Some of the earliest palaces in Islamic history include life-size frescoes of animals and human beings, and by the tenth century, figures were standard iconography on ceramic vessels, including the earliest luster examples made in Iraq (see example) and later those made in Kashan, Iran. During the medieval period, human figures in miniature scale became integral to the illustration of religious, historical, medical and poetic texts.
Note on Dates. The Islamic calendar begins in 622 CE, the year of the emigration (hijra) of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. Dates are presented as follows: 663 of the Hijra (AH), 1265 of the Common Era (CE), or simply 663/1265.
Diversity and Variety. First-time viewers of Islamic art are often captivated by its technical sophistication and beauty. Blown glass, illuminated manuscripts, inlaid metalwork, and soaring tiled domes astound through their color, forms, and details. Not all examples of Islamic art are equally luxurious, however, and a number of circumstances contribute to the diversity and variety encompassed under the broad term “Islamic art.”
The wealth of the patron is a critical factor, and functional objects for everyday use—basins for washing, chests for storing, candlesticks for lighting, carpets for covering—can differ significantly depending on whether they were made for a king, a merchant, or a peasant. The quality of a work of art is equally tied to its maker, and while the majority of Islamic art is anonymous, a number of master artists signed their works, desiring to be credited for their achievements, and indeed remain well known. Finally, the availability of raw materials also determines the look of an Islamic work of art. Due to the vast topography of the Islamic world (deserts, mountains, tropics), strong regional characteristics can be identified. Brick buildings clad with ceramic tiles are common to Iran and Central Asia, whereas sandstone and marble architecture is ubiquitous in India.
The regional—and by extension, linguistic—origins of a work of art also determines its appearance. Scholars and museums often deconstruct the broad term “Islamic art” into sub-fields such as the Arab lands, Persian world, the Indian subcontinent and other regions or by dynasty. The presentation of Islamic art in museums is often further segmented into dynastic production (example), which results in an emphasis on courtly production and patronage of the highest quality (example).
Status of the Field. The field of Islamic art history is currently experiencing a period of self-reflection and revision. Publicly, this is most evident in a number of major museum reinstallations (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louvre, Brooklyn Museum, David Collection) that have transpired over the last decade and some of which are still in progress. Of central concern is the validity of the phrase “Islamic Art” to describe the visual culture in question. Some curators and scholars have rejected this religious designation in favor of regional specificity (consider the new name of the galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and have criticized its monolithic, Eurocentric, and religion-based origins. Indeed, although some examples of Islamic art and architecture were made for religious purposes (a Qur’an for recitation in a mosque), others served secular needs (a window to decorate a home). Moreover, there are many examples of non-Muslims creating works of art categorized as “Islamic,” or even “Islamic” works of art created for non-Muslim patrons. These realities acknowledged, some scholars and institutions have opted to stress the Islam component of “Islamic art” (consider the name of the Louvre’s renovated galleries, “Arts of Islam,” that reopened in the fall of 2012).
The collection of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA), and its presentation at Shangri La, has much to contribute to these ongoing global dialogues. At a moment when the designation “Islamic art” is being fiercely debated, the DDFIA collection challenges existing taxonomies (ethnographic artifact versus fine art; secular versus religious; central versus periphery), while stimulating new ways of thinking about, defining and appreciating the visual culture.