The foyer is the first room that visitors enter in the main house, and it provides an introduction to Doris Duke (1912–93) as a collector and patron, to the visual language of Islamic art, and to the experience of Islamic art that Shangri La offers.
The general appearance of the foyer is indebted to the Rabat-based firm S.A.L.A.M. René Martin. In July 1937 in Antibes, Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell signed a contract with the firm’s eponymous founder René Martin to oversee the creation of large-scale architectural features in plaster, wood and ceramic for several rooms at Shangri La. For the foyer, the firm proposed an expansive painted ceiling, a clerestory of colored-glass windows (chemmassiat), a balustrade composed of turned and carved elements (mashrabiyya), a large geometric screen shielding the courtyard, a pair of doors, and a stucco arch over the main entrance (see thumbnails below). All of these custom-made elements drew upon forms and techniques standard to traditional Moroccan architecture, and the work was carried out by Moroccan craftsmen.
The collections on view in the foyer exemplify the temporal and geographical breadth of the Islamic world, as well as the varied materials and techniques of Islamic art. In addition, they demonstrate Duke’s interest in acquiring works of art that would serve practical needs throughout her home. Over 600 tiles from Iznik, Turkey, cover the walls; nineteenth-century copper alloy basins from Iran once held large Hawaiian plants; custom-made Moroccan elements in wood, glass and plaster provide coverage, lighting and support; nineteenth-century Egyptian or Syrian pierced metal lamps illuminate; and nineteenth-century inlaid wood Syrian chests support other items. The majority of these objects were acquired between 1935 and 1941 from dealers, at auction, during travels in India and the Middle East, and through the patronage of living craftsmen.
In the foyer, visitors are exposed to the visual vocabulary of Islamic art. Beautiful writing, or calligraphy, covers a number of objects and bears different meanings. Despite being made in the nineteenth century, the four hanging lamps (54.6.1–4) include the standard titulature of the Mamluk sultan of Egypt al-Nasir Muhammad (r. 1293–43); the front door (64.1b) features Qur’anic verses welcoming one into paradise; and a pair of large basins (54.2.1–2) are covered in inscriptions documenting their donation as a charitable gift (waqf) to a mosque in a shrine complex in Tabriz, Iran. Additionally, floral and vegetal patterns are visible in the Iznik tilework (48.1a), and bold geometric patterns cover the expansive wood ceiling (64.3).