Artist not known, Swat Valley, Pakistan Late 1200s
12 ft. X 20 ft.
Bj Averitt Islamic Art Fund, 1993.1
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2008. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
This architectural façade comes from the palace of Sayyed Akbar Shah, the first and only ruler of the Kingdom of Swat. The king’s palace was located in a town called Saidu, one of the main towns in the Swat River valley of present-day Pakistan. Although we do not know the names of the artists who made this door, or even how many artists there were, we can make a few guesses about them. We know that they were very skilled woodworkers, and that they were probably Muslim. We also know that they worked for a very powerful individual, the king, who most likely made some of the design decisions himself. Because of the size of the façade, and the amount of detailed carving covering the surface, there were probably a number of people who contributed to the process of creating it.
What Inspired It
The façade formed one-third of a formal entrance to the king’s palace. Because this entryway faced the street and would be seen by many people, the king would have wanted an elaborate design that would reflect his status and power. The woodworkers filled every available space with different shapes and patterns, leaving no area of the surface untouched. They probably followed the Muslim belief that no human or animal forms should be used. Instead, they used geometric and organic, or natural, forms. The amount of time that would have been required for such detailed carving illustrates the incredible skill of the artists who worked on this façade.
Originally, the palace façade had three sections with a central portal large enough for mounted elephants to enter (not that any did). The section now in the Denver Art Museum stood to the left of the main entryway; it was mirrored on the right by a nearly identical doorway. The elaborate palace entrance opened onto an inner courtyard, where separate wings housed the men’s and women’s quarters.
Notice the variations in the treatment of the eight lobed shapes in the squares on the two side doors. The shapes at the top of each door have the most surface decoration, and those on the lower section have the least.
Some areas of carving are more molded than others. In the detail to the left, the eight-lobed shape is relatively flat, while the flowers that fill the corners are carved with more depth and shape.
The whole door was originally painted. The color lasted mostly in the areas of lower-relief.
The lower panels on each of the side doors are probably the plainest part of the façade. However, even here a combination of rectangular and circular carved spaces creates a pattern of diamonds and squares—patterns inside of patterns.
Organic shapes are derived from natural forms and are usually composed of curved or irregular lines. Geometric forms are made up of shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles. The artists who carved this door used a combination of organic and geometric shapes.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- Compare the object to other important doors, such as cathedrals, synagogues, mosques and museums. Have students research in groups and compare as a class.
- Compare the Palace Façade to the Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest and the Yoruba Door Panel. Discuss what each object reveals about what its culture considers important.
- Create a pattern for the door of the classroom. Have the students design a 1” X 1” pattern that can be repeated over and over. Look at different patterns on the Palace Façade for inspiration. Cut out a piece of butcher paper that will cover the door and have the students work to fill the paper with the pattern they have designed. Discuss the effort that is required to completely fill a space with an organized design.
- Give each student a copy of the Palace Façade. Cut out the doors and paste the remaining façade onto a blank piece of paper. In the blank spaces, draw glimpses of what could be on the other side—a fountain, a table with pillows on the floor. Imagine what it would feel like walking through the doors and write a descriptive paragraph.
- The Palace once had an entrance large enough for an elephant to enter. Have students choose their favorite animal (or your class pet) and design an elaborate doorway for their animal’s imaginary house.