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John Carswell (2023)

After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1951, John Carswell worked as an archaeological draughtsman for Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho, and other sites in Greece and Turkey. In 1956 he joined the Department of Fine Art at the American University of Beirut. In 1976 he was a Visiting Professor at SOAS, and two years later appointed Curator of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and ultimately Director of the University’s David and Alfred Smart Museum. In 1988 he returned to London as Director of the Islamic and South Asian Department at Sotheby’s. From 1988 he lived in Spain.

He was a professorial research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His work was concerned with relations between the Pacific and the Mediterranean, through the export of Chinese ceramics and the reciprocal exchange of material from Western Asia by both land and sea. He was also interested in contemporary art and architecture throughout Asia and the interaction of Asian and Western culture from the medieval period onwards.


  • A Haven in the Levant

    From Issue 56

    Weary of the bustle of Beirut, where he was teaching in the 1960s, John Carswell set out to find a home on the coast. In the fishing village of Tabarja, he was seduced by a crumbling Ottoman house that would become his home until civil war tore Lebanon apart.

  • ...and the prize goes to…

    The Ancient & Modern Research Prize

    From Issue 51

    John Carswell introduces the mesmerising entries in this year’s Ancient and Modern Prize for original research. The competition was hot – from edible diplomacy to Byzantine Buenos Aires – but the winner is the doyen of Asian tent studies

  • A devilishly fine juicer

    From Issue 50

    John Carswell solves the mystery of the ‘lemon squeezer’ that wasn’t

  • Divan Inspiration

    From Issue 11

    Amasya, Tokat and Merzifon were once on the trade routes to China, centres of scholarship and commerce. Today they are secluded enclaves of traditional pleasures. John Carswell enjoys a feast of delicate architecture and heady wines. Photographs by Simon Upton

  • Smashing the age barrier

    The origins of the Ancient & Modern award

    From Issue 49

    The Ancient & Modern prize for original research goes to scholars both young and old – under 25 or over 60. John Carswell reveals what inspired him to set up the award

  • The Diving Diva

    From Issue 48

    John Carswell pays tribute to his friend the late Honor Frost (1917–2010), doyenne of underwater archaeology

  • The Ottoman Pleasure Garden

    From Issue 29

    The Ottomans were not only passionate about flowers. They turned the enjoyment of gardens into an art form. John Carswell leafs through a lavish volume which unlocks the gate to the pleasure grounds of Istanbul’s imperial palaces.

  • Whistlestop Bursa: A day out on the tiles

    Bursa: Home of the Sultans, part two

    From Issue 38

    John Carswell on the city that married the courtly arts of Asia to the princely aspirations of Renaissance Europe. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • One Thousand Years of Splendour

    'Turks' at the Royal Academy: A Special Report

    From Issue 33

    ‘Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600’ opened at the Royal Academy at the start of 2005 to great acclaim. The Ottoman objects, many of them never before seen outside Turkey, were a glorious marriage of refinement and splendour. But Turks was about more than the Ottomans. It celebrated the art of three great Turkic empires: that of the Seljuks, who ruled Persia and most of Anatolia; that of Tamerlane, based in Samarkand, which stretched from India to the Mediterranean; and the Ottoman Empire itself. Central Asia has had a profound influence on western culture that has been ignored for too long. ‘Turks’ set out to change all that. Cornucopia devoted 25 pages to the show, including this review by John Carswell. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • An Odyssey in Blue and White

    From Issue 25

    Chinese blue and white has had an unparalleled influence on taste in East and West for more than six centuries. Every self-respecting Islamic court had its collection of this precious porcelain, but the Topkapı Palace amassed one of the richest in the world. John Carswell began his own quest in a cathedral in Jerusalem and pursued it to the sands of the Gobi Desert. Here he tracks the march of blue and white from southern China to the Mediterranean and introduces the cream of the Topkapı collection.

  • Rhapsody in Blue

    The tiles of the Murad II Mosque in Edirne

    From Issue 19

    John Carswell reveals the fascinating story of the tiles of the Murad II Mosque in Edirne, and the clues they provide to a collection of prized Chinese porcelain assembled by the Ottoman sultans two decades before they captured Istanbul

  • Postcards from Paradise

    From Issue 16

    In a 36-page tribute, Cornucopia offers five contrasting views of the largest of the Princes Islands, Büyükada. Distant enough for monastic retreat and political exile, close enough for the summer migration of Istanbul’s bourgeoisie, this beguiling island has a tranquil past but a perilous future. Andrew Finkel looks back with affection on thirty years of summer holidays; John Carswell records his first impressions; Elizabeth Meath Baker and Angela Berzeg unlock the doors to three of its most fascinating houses

  • Tiled in Splendour

    Rüstem Pasha's Ceramic Garden

    From Issue 13

    Festooned with flowers, the brilliantly painted tiles of Rustem Pasha Mosque form a glazed garden of infinite variety. John Carswell discovers in them the hand of genius that gave birth to classical Iznik design. Photographs by Simon Upton

  • Order of the bath

    Ingres and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

    From Issue 10

    When the intrepid Lady Mary Wortley Montagu travelled with her husband’s embassy to Turkey in 1716, she recorded the minutiae of life on the road and in her ‘new world’. . Remarkably open-minded, her innocent observations inspired Ingres to paint some of the greatest erotic masterpieces of the Romantic movement.

  • The Bequest of a Gentleman

    Magdalen College’s collection of Kütahya ceramics

    From Issue 46

    The potters of Kütahya designed their ware to brighten monastic settings. Today these ceramics bring a glow to the old Oxford college of a discerning collector. John Carswell follows in the tracks of their journey from 18th-century Anatolia to English academe. Photographs by Lottie Davies

  • Bazaar Coincidence

    From Issue 27
  • Beauty in Ruins

    From Issue 21
Buy the latest issue
Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
£ 15.00

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