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Was an Italian Architect part in shaping the Design of the Taj Mahal?
At its magnificent best, the TajMahal has been standing strong through the test of time for over three centuries and that's only the tip of the iceberg. It has been pulling in a large footfall of curious individuals from all over the world. Commissioned by the Moghul Emperor ShahJahan, who wanted to immortalize his wife's name and ensure it remains etched in the minds of people and for all eternity and that too with the help of skilled craftsmen like Ustad Isa, Puru of Persia, and Isa Mohammad Effendi, the outcome was nothing short of wonder and fine beauty carved in the quintessential Moghul architecture and intertwined with Indian, Persian and Islamic structural styles.
So, if skilled craftsmen to the likes of Ustad Isa, Puru of Persia, and Isa Mohammad Effendi were behind the exquisite design of the Taj Mahal then who was Geronimo Veroneo and how is his name associated with the Taj Mahal?
From where did he start and why is he even in the story? The myth or legend associated with the Taj has it that it was the work of an Italian engineer named Geronimo Veroneo, who is believed to have stayed in Agra for a very long time and kicked the bucket in Lahore in 1640. The volume of material about the making of the Taj can be found in his hypothesis, which we'll read about in passages to come.
According to a few scholars from Europe, there was an architect from Italy who had a part to play in the initial planning of the Taj Mahal. His name was Geronimo Veroneo. It is believed that he visited Agra in the year 1640 and that the initial idea of making the Taj Mahal was given by Father Sebastian Manrique, a priest from Spain.
According to legend, Fr. Manrique had visited India to secure the release of Father Antony, a priest who was enslaved by the Moghuls in Lahore. It was then that he discussed the idea of the Taj with Geronimo's perpetrator, Father Joseph De Castro. He told him about Veroneo who passed away before reaching Lahore and later was buried in Padres Santos, a Catholic Cemetery in Agra.
The myth that Geronimo Veroneo had a contributory role to play in the design of the Taj Mahal can be argued since there are numerous gaps being pointed out by researchers. We all must have read the story of the Taj Mahal in schools, magazines, novels and online; however, the name of an Italian architect to have designed the Taj Mahal was never mentioned in any of these sources. Hence, how can it be possible this architect from Italy to have played a part in the planning and construction of the Taj and that too, in the typical traditional Persian style?
According to what has been mentioned in the history books, magazines, journals, novels and similar writings about the history of Moghuls, Geronimo Veroneo's did make a mention, but only as a gem specialist or jeweller who visited and stayed in Agra during the time when the Taj was being constructed.
To elaborate this myth, the story of the Italian architect playing a part in the designing of the Taj was first advocated by Fr. Manrique, a member of Saint Augustine's Christian religious order who came to Agra, India, in 1640 for the release of Father Antony (who was imprisoned by the Moghuls). He met Fr. Joseph DeCastro in Lahore, who was Geronimo Veroneo's executor. And it was Fr. DeCastro who told Fr. Manrique about this Venetian architect who died before reaching Lahore in 1640.
During Emperor Jahangir's reign, there was a mention of a gem and jewel specialist named Veroneo, who came to India and died on his way to Lahore, as advocated by Father Manrique. He lived for a while in Agra and flourished there. He had connections with many influential Europeans who were then stationed at North India's provinces. When he died, he was buried in Agra's Padres Santos Christian cemetery.
Agra, India, when the Taj was under construction, was the only association that Veroneo had with Father Manrique. That said, there are different speculations in the hypothesis that also demonstrate that there was no Italian association with the Taj in any manner. Firstly, the name ‘Geronimo Veroneo' does not make a mention in any of the contemporary Persian sources that expressed names of different artisans who designed or carvedThe Taj.
Second, there were numerous Europeans who travelled through Agra during the Taj's construction period and have mentioned Geronimo Veroneo as a gifted gem specialist in their travelogues. Moreover, ShahJahan, whose one title among the many others was ‘The maker of wonders' is known have been effectively planned everything from sketching out the blueprint to planning its structural design besides facilitating and supervising the construction of The Taj.
It is pretty intriguing to hear the story that a Venetian architect had designed the Taj. But evidences weigh up heavily against this myth. Though there was a Father Manrique, but he too was just a tourist who had heard that the Taj Mahal was designed by an Italian.
Nowhere is it mentioned that Veroneo had a part to play in the planning and architectural designing of the Taj Mahal. Fact is, history just has a mention of a Veroneo who was a skilled goldsmith who came to Agra, stayed there for a long time and prospered. Moreover, several Europeans who were witness to the making of the Taj Mahal, when it was still under construction, had never made a mention of this Italian architecture's name.
Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that an architect of the 17th century Italy, of Bernini, could even remotely contribute to the designing of this grand Indo-Persian styled mausoleum. There are many similar structural marvels in the world and The Taj is not an out-of-the-way spectacle. But it is the brainchild of a mastermind that reflects the great epoch of talent and artwork.