Gülru Necipoğlu, Harvard’s Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture, to Receive Freer’s 2023 Lifetime Achievement Medal; Oleg Grabar, 1st Aga Khan Professor was Honoured with the Freer Medal in 2001

Compiled and adapted from News Release, National Museum of Asian Art, January 3, 2023

The National Museum of Asian Art has announced its 2023 recipients of the Freer Medal, a lifetime achievement award that honors individuals who have substantially contributed to the understanding of the arts of Asia throughout their career. This year, the institution’s centennial, the honor will go to Vidya Dehejia, the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor Emerita of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University, and Gülru Necipoğlu, the Aga Khan Professor and Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University’s History of Art and Architecture Department. They will be honored for their lifetime work in South Asian art and arts of the Islamic world, respectively. The medal will be presented to Dehejia April 28 and to Necipoğlu Oct. 27.

Named after the museum’s founder, Charles Lang Freer, the Freer Medal has been awarded 14 times since its inception in 1956. This is the first time that a scholar of South Asian and another of Middle Eastern descent will receive the award. Only two other women have previously received the Freer Medal: It was awarded to Dame Jessica Rawson, professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Oxford, in 2017 and to Stella Kramrisch, Czech art historian and leading specialist on South Asian art, in 1985.

“The Freer Medal is an important way in which our museum encourages and exemplifies excellence in Asian art scholarship,” said Chase F. Robinson, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Asian Art. “We are pleased to recognize the enormous contributions that these scholars have made to their fields. It is long overdue that women of Middle Eastern and Asian heritages receive the Freer Medal. The museum congratulates Vidya Dehejia and Gülru Necipoğlu on this award during the landmark occasion of our centennial.”

About Gülru Necipoğlu

Gülru Necipoğlu, 2023 Freer Medal, Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, Simerg, News
Gülru Necipoğlu. Photograph: Via National Museum of Asian Art

Necipoğlu earned her doctorate from Harvard University in 1986 and has served there as the Aga Khan Professor and Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture since 1993. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University and a Master of Arts from Harvard University. Necipoğlu specializes in the arts and architecture of the pre-modern Islamic lands, with a focus on the Mediterranean world and the cross-cultural and artistic exchanges between the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires in the 16th and 17th centuries. Grounded in rigorous archival research, her multi-disciplinary studies have addressed the aesthetic interconnections of Byzantium and Renaissance Europe, pre-modern architectural practices and the role and function of ornament in the Islamic world and beyond, offering new and highly original perspectives on the arts and architecture of the region. Throughout her illustrious career, Necipoğlu has also trained and mentored numerous students, who have continued to transform the field. 

Since 1993, Necipoğlu has also served as editor of Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World and its supplements, the pre-eminent publication in the field, which has transformed the study of the arts and architecture of the Islamic world. Her own publications comprise studies in monumental architecture to intricate designs on portable objects and have changed the understanding of the arts of the Islamic world. They include Architecture, Ceremonial and Power: The Topkapı Palace (1991), The Topkapı Scroll–Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture (1995), The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire (2005, 2011), Treasures of Knowledge: An Inventory of the Ottoman Palace Library (1502/3–1503/4) (2 vols, 2019, coeditors Cemal Kafadar and Cornell H. Fleischer), The Arts of Ornamental Geometry: A Persian Compendium on Similar and Complementary Interlocking Figures (2017), A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, in the Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Art History (coeditor F. Barry Flood, 2017) and Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local (coeditor Alina Payne, 2016).

In recognition of her distinguished scholarly career, Necipoğlu is an elected member of the British Academy, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza, Italy.


Oleg Grabar: One of 14 Previous Recipients of the Freer Medal , was Instrumental in Founding Harvard’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture

The following piece about Oleg Grabar includes material from a memorial meeting held by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences on May 1, 2012Co-incidentally, we are publishing this piece almost 12 years to the day of Grabar’s death on January 8, 2011.

Oleg Grabar. Photograph: Archnet
Oleg Grabar. Photograph: Archnet

Among the fourteen previous recipients of the Freer Medal is Professor Oleg Grabar (1929-2011), who received the eleventh presentation of the medal on April 5, 2001. A special award booklet dedicated to Professor Grabar was published and can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

On November 24, 2010, at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture ceremony held in Qatar, His Highness the Aga Khan presented the Chairman’s Award to Professor Oleg Grabar in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the field of Islamic art and architecture. Less than two months later, on January 8, 2011, Oleg Grabar passed away at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, at the age of eighty-one.

Professor Grabar was recognized by the Islamic art and architecture community as one of the field’s most influential and insightful scholars. He was professor emeritus of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, and Aga Khan Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

Professor Grabar, who taught in the Harvard Department of Fine Arts (now History of Art and Architecture) for twenty-one years (1969–1990), was instrumental in founding Harvard’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. There are few, if any, Islamicists who have not profited from the scholarly contributions of this extraordinary man, who was larger-than-life. He was the first Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art at Harvard (1980–1990) — a position now held as mentioned in the previous section above by Gülru Necipoğlu — and subsequently joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained active in research and publication until his second retirement in 1998, and over the following thirteen years as well. Grabar’s continuing post-retirement intellectual productivity and capacity to inspire were officially recognized when he received His Highness the Aga Khan’s Chairman’s Award in Doha, Qatar, in 2010.

Please click on photo for enlargement

Aga Khan Award for Architecture Lifetime Achievement Award to Oleg Grabar, Simerg
His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the then Emir of Qatar, presents a certificate to Professor Oleg Grabar who was awarded the Chairman’s Award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the field of Islamic art and architecture, as Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and His Highness the Aga Khan look on. The Award ceremony took place in Qatar November 24, 2010. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte.

Date posted: January 6, 2023.



Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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