Gülru Necipoğlu

Gülru Necipoğlu

Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art
Director of the Aga Khan Program of Islamic Architecture, Department of the History of Art and Architecture
Gülru Necipoğlu

Gülru Necipoğlu has been Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art at Harvard University since 1993 where she earned her PhD in 1986. She specializes in the medieval and early modern periods, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean basin and Eastern Islamic lands. She is the editor of Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World and Supplements to Muqarnas. Her books include Architecture, Ceremonial, and Power: The Topkapi Palace (1991); The Topkapi Scroll, Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture (1995); and The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire (2005). Her Topkapi Scroll won the Albert Hourani and the Spiro Kostoff book awards. The Age of Sinan has been awarded the Fuat Köprülü Book Prize. She is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Archittettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza. Her articles include interpretations of monuments such as the Dome of the Rock, Suleymaniye Mosque and Topkapi Palace; Ottoman visual culture; comparative studies on the three early modern Islamic empires (Safavid, Mughal, Ottoman); and artistic exchanges between Byzantium, Renaissance Italy, and the Islamic lands. Her publications also address questions of pre-modern architectural practice, plans and drawings, and the aesthetics of abstract ornament and geometric design. Her critical interests encompass methodological and historiographical issues in modern constructions of the field of Islamic art.

She recently edited the following four books: Treasures of Knowledge: An Inventory of the Ottoman Palace Library (1502/3-1503/4), co-edited with Cemal Kafadar and Cornell H. Fleischer (Muqarnas Supplements, vol. 14, 2019); A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, coedited with Finbarr Barry Flood, a two volume reader of more than 50 commissioned essays in the “Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Art History” series (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017); The Arts of Ornamental Geometry: A Persian Compendium on of Similar and Complementary Interlocking Figures, in the Supplements to Muqarnas series, (Brill, 2017); and Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local, coedited with Alina Payne (Princeton University Press, 2016).

Her edited book, The Arts of Ornamental Geometry: A Persian Compendium on Similar and Complementary Interlocking Figures, was a winner of the “26th World Award for Book of the Year” of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Book Award Secretariat. It was selected as one of the best new works in the field of Islamic / Iranian Studies, and the Award Ceremony was held in Tehran on February 5, 2019.


In June 2020 Professor Necipoğlu was honored by being elected as a “Corresponding Fellow” of the British Academy.


Gülru’s publications include a forthcoming article, “Transregional Connections: Architecture and the Construction of Early Modern Islamic Empires” (Proceedings of the Conference “The Arts & Culture of Mughal India,” K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Mumbai), ed. Roda Ahluwalia, The Art & Culture of Mughal India: New Studies (New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2020-21).

She also published a monumental two-volume book co-edited by her, Cemal Kafadar, and Cornell H. Fleischer, in the Harvard AKPIA Publication Series (Supplements to Muqarnas, vol. 14, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2019): Treasures of Knowledge: An Inventory of the Ottoman Palace Library (1502/3-1503/4). Gülru’s opening essay is titled, “The Spatial Organization of Knowledge in the Ottoman Palace Library: An Encyclopedic Collection and Its Inventory,” with an appendix “Plates from Manuscripts at the Topkapı Palace Museum Library,” 1-77, 1011-1075. This long-awaited work is the culmination of a conference organized in 2014 at the Harvard History of Art and Architecture Department, under the auspices of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. It focuses on a fascinating manuscript preserved in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, which catalogues the book collection of the Ottoman sultans Mehmed II (r. 1451-81) and  Bayezid II (r. 1481-1512), kept in the Topkapı Palace Treasury and prepared by the court librarian. The 28 essays in vol. 1, over 1,000 pages, analyze books written in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and “Mongolian,” on specific fields of knowledge, according to which the inventory was organized, spanning from rational theology, Islamic jurisprudence, Sufism, ethics and politics, to literature and the mathematical sciences. Vol. 2 is a facsimile with transliteration. Fabrizio Speziale recognizes this publication as a major contribution to the study of “the history, the role, and the organization of libraries in Muslim societies, as well as their links with other Muslim cultural and political institutions, which remain topics still insufficiently studied in recent scholarship.”[1] Konrad Hirschler’s review of this “massive” and “ground-breaking study that will remain with us for many decades,” judges it “a wonderful book that is a must-read for anyone interested in Ottoman studies or the history of ideas or libraries.”[2] The many illustrated plates with seal impressions of the sultans accompanied by codicological analyses of surviving manuscripts from the collection make a valuable contribution to the art historical study of Islamic manuscripts. 


[1] Fabrizio Speziale, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 83 (1), 2020, 144-146.

[2] Konrad Hirschler, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, vol. 7, no. 1, (Spring 2020), 244-249.




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