Juliette Gordon Low was an inveterate traveler. In 1908, she was in that part of the British Empire known today as Pakistan. There is much more to be told about her long, remarkable trip than is possible in a single blog post. Today, though, I thought I’d share one comment from the diary she kept at the time. Biographers mine their subject’s words and actions for clues of all sorts, and I found the superlatives Daisy used very striking in her description of the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore:
“These gardens are my idea of art [and] good taste, and they give a feeling of repose, rest, and refreshment unequalled anywhere.”
Daisy was an artist. She looked at everything–architecture, gardens, even people–with an artist’s appreciation for beauty. Are the aesthetics of the Shalimar Gardens similar to other works of art or architecture that Daisy liked? What exactly was it about the Shalimar Gardens that she found so compelling? What can we infer about her once we know?
The answers are not all forthcoming. A certain amount of educated guesswork is necessary. I think we can infer from her letter that she truly meant the superlatives, for she drew a picture of part of the Gardens, as though frustrated at the inability of words to convey her feelings:
Before personal photography, drawings like this in letters home conveyed an idea of the traveler’s experiences. If that traveler was an artist, the sketch could augment the sense of connectedness, of being understood by the loved one reading the letter. She illustrated very few of her letters, so I pay particular attention to them when I see them.
Daisy’s drawing was a bird’s eye view. We can compare it to this modern photo to see the plants surrounding this pool and the trefoil designs that so interested her:
She drew a close-up of the trefoil that lined the edges of the pool:
The Shalimar Gardens were Daisy’s “idea of art [and] good taste.” They created a sense of calm. They refreshed the spirit. Should all art do all of that?
The Mughal ruler Shah Jahan, a man famed for his love of art and beautiful architecture, caused the Shalimar Gardens to be built in the seventeenth century. Daisy saw and loved other sites constructed under his aegis, including the Red Fort in Dehli and the Taj Mahal in Agra. Each of these sites have balanced proportions that she found attractive and peaceful.
Daisy’s favorite paintings came from the Renaissance period. Light, symmetry, three-dimensional space, historical and religious subjects that brought forth an emotional response in the viewer–these were some of the characteristics of Renaissance art. There may not seem, at first glance, to be much in common between Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and the Shalimar Gardens, but perhaps an appreciation for the former predisposed her to enjoy the same characteristics in this Mughal idyll.
This could tell us that she preferred her art to inspire through a spiritual dimension. If “one is nearer God’s heart in a garden,” then perhaps Daisy responded to the birdsong and the scented flowers, the long, straight paths of water and the 410 fountains in a way similar to the way she felt contemplating the work of Giotto or Caravaggio.
The three-tiered, uniform, restful Shalimar Gardens, with their artistry in stone and water and plants was a highlight of Daisy’s trip to present-day Pakistan. This post would be much longer if I included the history and the larger layout of the Shalimar Gardens, but I hope you may be inspired to teach yourself more about this spectacular historic site which caused Daisy to marvel.
And how about that trefoil that caught her attention? Interesting, don’t you think?!!