Types of Wall Paintings at Fathpur Sikri

The wall paintings technically can either be in the form of frescoe-buono, stucco, or frescoe-secca. The frescoe-buono (generally referred to simply as frescoe) is a technique of applying colour pigments on a wet lime-plaster surface. In this technique, the dry colour pigments are absorbed by the plaster as it gradually dries.

In the case of stucco-painting, the colour is applied on relief ornamentation on slow setting hydraulic lime plaster. The frescoe-secca (generally referred to simply as a mural; though the term mural simply implies any surface ornamentation on the wall) implies a painting done on a

(generally thin layer of) plaster which has set in. This type is also referred to as tempera.

In either case, the outline of the paintings was drawn with red ochre (geru) or black colour, for which generally carbon was used. The pigments, for painting the surfaces were generally prepared from the minerals like red ochre, lapis lazuli, sulphides of mercury, lead and other arsenic and copper ores. Some colours were also prepared

from plant extracts like indigo, lac and dhak.

Evidence gathered through the surviving architectural remains suggests that the Mughal architects resorted to this art while decorating their structures from the reign of

Babur itself. The now demolished Mir Baqi’s Mosque at Ayodhya (c.1528-29 AD) was adorned with stucco-painted soffits, lunettes and extrados. For Humayun’s period, we

have the Kachhpura Mosque at Agra and Humayun’s Library (‘Sher Mandal’) at Delhi.

Just like the Ayodhya Mosque, The Kachhpura Mosque of Humayun, constructed a year later (1530 AD) has traces of stucco-paint on soffit, lunette and extrados of the central

dome and mihrab. The walls of the main chamber of the Humayun’s Library are replete with floral and vegetal patterns and designs. Under Akbar, the art of wall painting was employed to such an extent that it came to be counted as one of the essential architectural features of Akbari Architecture.

The most prominent examples of murals are now to be found in the Khwābgāh, the khizāna-i anūptalao (popularly known as the ‘Painted Chamber’), and the so-called Sonahra Makān (Gilded House) or Maryam’s House.

The Jami’ Masjid, the so-called Jodhbai Palace (the Major Haramsara, ‘shabistan-i iqbal’) and the hammams, especially the Imperial Baths (in the daulatkhāna quadrangle), the so-called Hakim’s Bath (infact the main Imperial Baths), and the small bath on the slope adjoining the southern wall of the daulatkhana-i am provide us with the examples of the wall paintings in the stucco form.

As against the general belief, walls of Fathpur Sikri are covered not only by murals painted during the reign of Akbar but also those which were executed during the reigns of Jahangir and Shahjahan.

The murals at Fathpur Sikri are generally in a form resembling tempera (fresco secca), the extant examples of which are in the Khwabgah (the khilvat-kada), the

Khizana-i Anuptalao (popularly known as the ‘Painted Chamber’), and the so-called Sonahra Makan or Maryam’s House. At Khwābgāh and the ‘Sonahra Makan’ the colour

pigments have been applied on a very thin layer of intonaco (plaster background).

However in the Khizāna-i Anūptalao and the verandah encompassing the Khwabgah, the colour-pigment appears to have been directly applied on the red sand-stone surface.

Another type of wall paintings are also found at Fathpur Sikri. But this is found in the structures which were either built or renovated during the period of Shahjahan. Sgraffito or Carvo-intaglio was a style of painting which was used in abundance in the buildings of Shahjahan. The best example of this type are the mosque and the mehmānkhāna flanking the Taj Mahal.

In this style, two layers of paint are applied, one on top of the other, say white and brick red. Then when both the layers have dried, a design is sketched. Then slowly as per the design the upper layer is scratched, exposing the inner one.

At Fathpur Sikri this sgraffito is represented in the Daulatkhāna of Shahjahan and his hammam. An underground chamber of the palace has beautiful sgraffito dados as well as vault decorations.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi