THE University of Michigan was the first institution in the United States to establish a chair of the history of Islamic art and to have a special unit devoted to its study. In June, 1933, Mehmet Aga-Oglu (Litt.D. Moscow '16, Ph.D. Vienna '27) was appointed Freer Fellow and Lecturer on Oriental Art. Dr. Aga-Oglu, a Turkish scholar, had received his education in Berlin, Moscow, Jena, and Vienna and had come to the United States in 1929 to be curator of Near Eastern art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Miss Isabel Hubbard ('29, M.A. '35) was appointed Assistant Curator and assisted Dr. Aga-Oglu in the work of organization.
A program of courses, publications, and research activities for a proposed research seminary in Islamic art was drawn up in 1933 (Ruthven, pp. 285-88). The curriculum was designed particularly for advanced students who were interested in future museum work or in teaching, but it also offered a unique opportunity for students of fine arts and Oriental civilizations to round out their programs of study. General courses in the history of Islamic architecture and the decorative arts such as carpets, pottery, and glass were outlined. A course, Introduction to the History of Islamic Art (Fine Arts 181), was given by Dr. Aga-Oglu in the first semester. It was attended by six graduate students, one senior, and several visitors.
In addition to the courses it was planned to publish a journal, Ars Islamica, which was to contain articles by various scholars in the field, and also a series of monographs to be contributed by members of the Research Seminary in Islamic Art. The first number of Ars Islamica, edited by Aga-Oglu, appeared in January, 1934. Subscriptions came from all parts of the world, and the journal received an enthusiastic welcome internationally. To stimulate public interest in this comparatively little-known field the Research Seminary in Islamic Art sponsored many public lectures, three of which were given the first year.
In the autumn of 1934 Aga-Oglu was granted a leave of absence to represent the University and to take part in the program of the International Congress of Orientalists and the millennial celebration of the Persian poet, Firdausi, held in the cities of Teheran and Tus, Iran. He was accompanied on this expedition by Peter Ruthven, a graduate student of Islamic art. Of special interest was Aga-Oglu's study of the shrine at Nedjef, where he photographed many examples of rugs and textiles hitherto unknown to the western world. During the remainder of the year 1934-35 he also conducted an extension course in Detroit, and in the summer of 1935 he conducted courses in Islamic art at Princeton University.
A large exhibition of Islamic decorative art was arranged at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and two smaller exhibits of similar material were assembled in Alumni Memorial Hall. The Research Seminary in Islamic Art began to draw prominent visitors, among whom was Professor L. A. Mayer, a noted Islamic scholar from Palestine, who gave a public lecture on Saracenic heraldry in the spring of 1935.
Page 1145After the proposed plan had been in successful operation for two years, in May, 1935, the Regents recognized the Research Seminary in Islamic Art as part of the Division of Fine Arts, and in September of that year Aga-Oglu was promoted to Associate Professor of the History of Islamic Art. Further recognition was given to the Research Seminary in Islamic Art by its election to honorary membership in the Institut d'Archéologie et d'Historie de L'Art, a branch of the Institut International de Cooperation Intellectuelle. In 1935 Aga-Oglu's book, Persian Bookbindings of the Fifteenth Century, appeared as a monograph from the University Press. It presented a selection of characteristic specimens from the period in which Persian bookbinders produced their best work.
During the first two years of organization a collection of slides and photographs was built up, and in 1935, after the Research Seminary in Islamic Art had been made a part of the Division of Fine Arts, the work was expanded. New quarters were obtained in Angell Hall, and room 4006 was made a study room, containing a collection of books, slide cases, study tables, photograph files, magazine racks, and office equipment. Magazines were received regularly as exchange or review copies. Exhibits of Islamic wood, Islamic and Coptic textiles, and pottery were arranged from the University's own collections, and there was also a loan exhibition of Islamic decorative art.
To continue its plan of stimulating interest in Islamic art the Research Seminary organized a series of eight lectures which were presented by members of the faculty in their own special fields of Near Eastern culture. Those participating were Professors Worrell, Boak, C. Hopkins, E. E. Peterson, Aga-Oglu, and Mrs. Adele Weibel from the Detroit Institute of Arts.
In 1936-37 the teaching curriculum included five lecture courses and five seminars. Ars Islamica was edited by Aga-Oglu with the following consultative committee: Laurence Binyon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Maurice S. Dimand, Halil Ethem, Albert Gabriel, Ernst Herzfeld, Ernst Kühnel, John E. Lodge, Alexander G. Ruthven, Friedrich Sarre, Josef Strzygowski, Gaston Wiet, and John G. Winter. The first volume was a joint enterprise of the University and the Detroit Institute of Arts, but beginning with the second volume (1935) the University took full responsibility for the publication. The articles, contributed without honorarium, were printed in one of three languages, French, German, or English. In four years Ars Islamica was well established in its unique position as the only journal devoted to Islamic art, and it has received continued recognition for its high standards.
The curriculum established in the fall of 1936 was continued in 1937-38. A second lecture series was organized with the following persons participating, W. C. Rufus, J. W. Stanton, C. Hopkins, R. McDowell, J. Plumer, and M. Aga-Oglu.
In March, 1938, Professor Eustache de Lorey, of the École de Louvre, Paris, a distinguished scholar in the field of Islamic art, appeared on the University Lecture Series.
In May, 1938, Dr. Aga-Oglu resigned. He was succeeded by Richard Ettinghausen (Ph.D. Frankfurt '31), who in August, 1938, became Associate Professor of Islamic Art. In 1940 there were twenty-two graduate students, and one degree of doctor of philosophy was conferred.