University of London school honors Evan Pugh Professor, expert in Byzantium

Stephanie Swindle
February 27, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Anthony Cutler, Evan Pugh Professor of Art History, has been appointed a professorial research associate in the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, for a two-year term in 2015-17. The first Byzantinist to receive this award, Cutler said his research on the role of artifacts and gift exchange between Byzantium and the Islamic world will expand SOAS’s concentration on the study of material culture.

“This move is a clear attempt to enlarge Byzantium to include Islam and vice versa. It’s an innovation for them, as it is for me,” he said.

Dr. Craig Zabel, associate professor and head of the Department of Art History, lauded Cutler’s most recent accolade. “SOAS is one of the premier research institutions in the world dealing with Asia, the Middle East and Africa,” he said.

“It’s a considerable compliment,” admitted Cutler. “In 2011-12, I was the Slade Lecturer (Slade Professorship of Fine Art, Oxford University). This is the biggest honor following up on that.”

As part of Cutler’s appointment, he will have access to SOAS’s top-tier library facility, which has every Islamic text and all the translations — “much like my old stomping ground, Dumbarton Oaks, has for Byzantium.” He will also give a seminar when he is in residence.

Cutler’s research at SOAS will be an expansion of the work he has done on Byzantine-Islamic relations, particularly through objects. “It’s up to art historians to restore objects to their primary value,” he added. Cutler, the foremost expert on ivory carvings in Byzantium, uses objects to explain and enhance the study of the role of ivories within cultural exchanges and their craftsmanship.

A native of England, Cutler noted that the American academic system is different from the British academic system, where “professor” is much more than a title — it’s a prestigious honor. “It’s an almost completely separate academic world. It’s good to be recognized in both. It’s a mini-step toward globalization,” said Cutler, whose position at SOAS is the equivalent of a fellowship in the United States.

On the Penn State Art History faculty since 1967, Cutler has said that “the practice of research, leading to publication, is an integral part of teaching.” The author of numerous books and articles, he has established himself as an international expert on ivory carving. He has a new book coming out in 2016: "The Empire of Things: Gifts and Gift Exchange Between Byzantium, the Islamic World, and Beyond," with Oxford University Press, published with support from the George Dewey and Mary J. Krumrine Endowment. In addition to his Slade Professorship, other recent honors include Visiting Scholar in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks (February 2014) and Forsyth Lecturer for the International Center for Medieval Art (fall 2014).

  • giraffe bowl

    Cutler studies a wide range of objects, some of which are included to give a sense of his research. This is a 11th-12th century Lustreware bowl with giraffe and handler from Athens, in the Benaki Museum.

    IMAGE: Benaki Museum
  • Barberini ivory

    This is the Barberini ivory, located in the Louvre in Paris. It dates from the early sixth century in Constantinople.

    IMAGE: Musee de Louvre
  • Victoria and Albert textile

    This is a textile from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is made of silk with senmurv and dates from the eighth-ninth century, possibly from Iran. 

    IMAGE: Victoria and Albert Museum
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Last Updated July 28, 2017