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Mihrab Room

The Mihrab Room preserves a number of masterpieces in the DDFIA collection, particularly architectural tilework produced during the Ilkhanid period (1226–1353).

Syrian Room

The Syrian Room is one of Shangri La’s most cohesive spaces: a period room created for posterity, echoing those found in a number of other museums.

Damascus Room

The Damascus Room is a highlight of the Islamic art collection assembled by Doris Duke (1912–93) and is one of two Syrian interiors preserved at Shangri La.

Entry Courtyard

Visitors to Shangri La descend a long driveway shielded by dense foliage and first encounter the main house from within an open-air space known variously as the entry or banyan courtyard.

Foyer

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.

Central Courtyard

The main house at Shangri La revolves around a central courtyard, an architectural feature central to a number of buildings in the Islamic world.

Living Room

The living room preserves a number of important works of art from North Africa and Spain.

Mihrab Room

The Mihrab Room preserves a number of masterpieces in the DDFIA collection, particularly architectural tilework produced during the Ilkhanid period (1226–1353).

Dining Room

The dining room is Doris Duke’s (1912–93) interpretation of an Islamic-style tent.

Playhouse

Located on the west end of the property and adjacent to the ocean, the Playhouse at Shangri La is a poolside pavilion inspired by the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722. 

Mughal Garden

The Mughal Garden is Shangri La’s microcosm of the royal gardens found throughout the Indian subcontinent. 

Private Hall

The private hall is located off the central courtyard and terminates in the Mughal Suite.

Mughal Suite

The Mughal Suite is located at the end of a private hall extending from the central courtyard.

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DDFIA 48.327. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Detail of the Veramin mihrab. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.)

Ilkhanid star and cross tiles line the doorway between the Mihrab Room and the living room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2010.)

Detail of a floor lamp, Egypt or Syria, late nineteenth century. Decorating the wall behind is a panel of late-nineteenth-century Iranian tiles. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Group of star and cross tiles, Iran, thirteenth–fourteenth century. Stonepaste: some molded, monochrome-glazed; some underglaze painted in blue, overglaze painted in luster. In the Mihrab Room. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The Mihrab Room preserves a number of masterpieces in the DDFIA collection, particularly architectural tilework produced during the Ilkhanid period (1226–1353), during which time Greater Iran was ruled by an “Il khan” (lesser khan) subservient to the Great Khan of the formidable Mongol empire (in China: the Yuan dynasty, 1279–1368). The room’s entrance is framed by a stucco spandrel and soaring wood doors custom-made in Morocco in 1937. Behind this arched space is the wall that marks the eastern terminus of the main house’s publicly accessible rooms. Early on in Shangri La’s history, this important space was home to a sculpture of Guanyin, a Buddhist bodhisattva. Shortly thereafter, the sculpture was replaced by the masterpiece of the DDFIA collection: a luster mihrab (architectural niche) dated 663/1265 and signed by its maker ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir (48.327). This mihrab was originally located in the shrine of Imamzada Yahya at Veramin, Iran, and was acquired from Hagop Kevorkian (1872–1962) in 1940. It is a masterpiece of the luster ceramic technique, a dual-firing process in which metallic oxides are applied over an already fired glazed surface. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, luster production flourished in Kashan, Iran, and four generations of potters from the Abi Tahir family were renowned masters of the technique.

Visitors first encounter the mihrab from the far (west) end of the living room, where they see its glittering surfaces beautifully framed by custom-made Moroccan elements. They walk from the bright and open space of the living room towards the dimly lit and far smaller Mihrab Room. In some ways, this experience echoes the transition from an Ilkhanid tomb’s sunlit courtyard to the dark, intimate spaces of its sanctuary, where a mihrab would orient prayer towards Mecca. Looking at the mihrab up close, one can appreciate a hallmark of Islamic art: calligraphy, or beautiful writing. The mihrab’s entire surface is covered in Qur’anic verses rendered in a variety of scripts, from large, angular ones to small, cursive ones. One of these verses is the Throne Verse (2:256):  

Allah! There is no God but He,
The Living, the Self-Subsisting, the Eternal
No Slumber can seize Him, nor sleep
All things in heaven and earth are His… 

Once in the Mihrab Room, visitors encounter additional ceramic arts of Iran’s pre-Mongol (c. 1180–1220) and Mongol (c. 1220–1310) periods. To the left of the mihrab is a set of 10 luster tiles (48.347) inscribed with Qur’anic verses that would have originally formed an inscription frieze in an Ilkhanid tomb or mosque. The final tile (lower left) is signed by Yusuf, the son of the potter (‘Ali ibn Muhammad) who made the adjacent mihrab (48.327). In the middle of the wall preserving the set of 10 tiles is a three-part luster tomb cover (48.348), which would have originally formed the upper surface of a large cenotaph marking the burial place of the deceased. Like the mihrab, it too is covered in Qur’anic verses, and its inscription further reveals that it was made for the tomb of a daughter of Imam Ja‘far (d. 765), the sixth Shi‘ite imam (the branch of Shi‘ism practiced in Iran is Twelver Shi‘ism, in which twelve imams are venerated). In Iran, the buildings that entomb descendants of imams are known as imamzadehs. Between the tomb cover and Veramin mihrab, the Mihrab Room preserves two examples of tile ensembles from known Ilkhanid imamzadehs. Further, between the Veramin mihrab and set of 10 tiles, it represents two of four generations of production by the Abi Tahir family.

Additional Ilkhanid tilework in the Mihrab Room includes a pair of square luster tiles with verses from Iran’s national epic, the Shahnama (48.346.1-2). These tiles were originally part of an ensemble numbering approximately 30 tiles and are of the type associated with Takht-i Suleyman, a summer palace in northwestern Iran built for the Mongol ruler Abaka (r. 1265–82). The reverse of the arch leading into the Mihrab Room, as well as its jambs, are covered in alternating star and cross tiles. This combination of tile shapes was ubiquitous in Ilkhanid buildings, and such tilework often covered the dado (lower portion) of walls. The star tiles are all luster and many are painted with figures and animals, among them phoenixes and dragons, which demonstrate the influence of Chinese art on Ilkhanid Persian art. Virtually all of the star tiles have inscription borders—typically verses from the Qur’an (Arabic) or Shahnama (Persian).

Portable furnishings in the Mihrab Room are not limited to religious objects. While the lighting devices—hanging enameled glass lamps and brass candlesticks—are of the type common to religious buildings like mosques and shrines, the ceramics on view in the wall vitrines are products of a secularly courtly culture. One of the vitrines displays Doris Duke’s (1912–93) collection of mina’i wares, which were made in Iran just prior to the Mongol invasions of the 1220s. The polychromatic surfaces of these twice-fired pots include courtly scenes such as hunting, feasting, musical entertainment, and rulers enthroned. These vessels confirm the prevalence of figural imagery in Islamic art, particularly in palatial contexts.

Historical Images

Sketch of the Guanyin Room (now the Mihrab Room), December 15, 1937. Marion Sims Wyeth, Wyeth & King, Architects. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Statue of Guanyin, a Buddhist bodhisattva, March–April 1939. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Star and cross tiles frame a vitrine in the Mihrab Room, prior to the installation of the Ilkhanid luster tomb cover (48.348) in 1941. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Star and cross tiles line the passage between the Mihrab Room and the dining room, November 1946. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The Veramin mihrab, framed by Moroccan wood doors, 1947. Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The Veramin mihrab, framed by Moroccan wood doors. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)
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Available on this website:

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Tilework: Ilkhanid Iran,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012.

Other resources:

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee, “The Religious Arts Under the Iklhanids,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.

Suzan Yalman, “Art of the Ilkhanid Period (1256–1353),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.

The Legacy of Genghis Khan,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

After the Mongol Invasions,” in Islamic Ceramics Trail, Ashmolean Museum.

Damascus Room
Private Hall
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