Harvard Begins Collecting Islamic Art

Orientalism and the study of Islam 1919

Harvard Collects Islamic Art

The Fogg Art Museum, founded in 1895, acquired its first works of Islamic art in 1919 from the bequest of Hervey Wetzel, a graduate of Harvard College in 1911 and later Ph.D. student at Harvard in “Persian and Mohammedan Art,” who died tragically of pneumonia in 1918. Eric Schroeder, who became the first curator of the Fogg Museum’s Islamic collection in 1938 with the title, “Keeper of Persian Art,” and John Coolidge, who became the museum’s director in 1948, both worked to expand and showcase its Islamic art collection. In the 1950s, art collector Bernard Berenson, whose interest in Islamic art was sparked by his experience studying Arabic at Harvard with Professor Crawford Toy in the 1880s, left his estate of Villa I Tatti in Florence, Italy, consisting mostly of an Italian Renaissance library and art collection but also an Islamic collection, to his alma mater. In 1979, the gift from Karim Aga Khan (A. B. '59)  that established the Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture and the Aga Khan Professorship in Islamic Art also established the Aga Khan Center at the Harvard Fine Arts Library, which gave the library the resources and specialized staff to build a world-class collection in the fields of Islamic art and architecture.

Quran manuscript from Wetzel bequest
Folio 22 from a Fragment of a Manuscript of the Qur'an: Sura 24: 21-22 (recto), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Hervey E. Wetzel.