Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Professor Anna Contadini

Key information

Department of History of Art and Archaeology Professor of the History of Islamic Art Centre for Iranian Studies Member Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies Member
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts
Laurea (Venice), PhD (London)
Russell Square: College Buildings
Email address
Telephone number
+44(0) 20 7898 4458
Support hours
Tuesdays, 3:00pm–4:00pm (in person); Wednesdays, 1:00pm–2:00pm (in person)


Professor Anna Contadini graduated (Laurea cum laude) in Arabic and Islamic Art at the Oriental Institute of Venice University with a thesis on Arabic illustrated manuscripts of the Mamluk period. She also has a great interest in music and received a Diploma in piano from the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello in Venice. Subsequently she completed her doctorate in Islamic Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of London University with a thesis on text and image focusing on early Arab and Persian manuscripts on the characteristics and usefulness of animals and plants. She was then appointed Baring Foundation Research Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She conducted research on a range of objects drawn from the splendid Islamic collection of the Museum, but concentrated on the Fatimid material, on which she wrote her first monograph, Fatimid Art at the V&A published in 1998. She was then appointed Lecturer in Islamic Art at Trinity College, Dublin, and then Curator of the Islamic Collections of the Chester Beatty Library, before taking up a lectureship at SOAS, where she is now Professor of the History of Islamic Art.

Research interests

Prof. Contadini travels extensively to pursue her research interests, which continue to embrace the book culture of the Islamic world, with particular reference to illustrated manuscripts, and its material culture, both also examined within the wider context of contacts and transfers between the Islamic Middle East and Europe. Artefacts are thus studied for their mobility and agency, as affected by processes of transculturation, and, along with manuscripts, as integral to the nexus of artistic, cultural, and intellectual relationships between the Islamic lands and Europe. 

Her continuing work on the interconnections between Europe, especially Italy, and the Islamic lands has borne fruit in a variety of publications. The updated proceedings of an international conference on The Renaissance and the Ottoman World that she organized with the Warburg Institute was published by Ashgate as a volume co-edited with Claire Norton (2013). As “Visiting Researcher” at Heidelberg University (2009-2011), she contributed to an interdisciplinary project on Images of Alterity in Medieval Western and Arabic and Persian illustrated manuscripts, resulting in research articles, such as “Translocation and Transculturation: Middle Eastern Objects in Europe” (2010). More recently, she has been the principal researcher and director of an interdisciplinary and interinstitutional project on the Pisa Griffin, Mari-Cha Lion, Lucca Falcon and related metalwork and material culture. This culminated in her editing and co-authoring the 550 page volume The Pisa Griffin and the Mari-Cha Lion. Metalwork, Art, and Technology in the Medieval, Islamicate Mediterranean, Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2018.

She is currently completing a project on Islamic Art in Italy: the Bologna Collections, which seeks to study unique objects and manuscripts in collections in Bologna and associated centres, that are of paramount importance for understanding the connections between pre-modern Europe and the Islamic world. The project intends to innovate methodologically by integrating the objects within the specific cultural contexts of the Nexus and to reveal their impact on European art, and transform current approaches to Islamic art by studying the material through the lens of decoloniality.

Another main area of research is on Arabic and Persian illustrated manuscripts, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between text and image. This is reflected in Arab Painting (2007, revised edition 2010) of which she is editor and co-author, and in the monograph A World of Beasts: A Thirteenth-Century Illustrated Arabic Book on Animals (the Kitāb Na‘t al-Ḥayawān) in the Ibn Bakhtīshū‘ Tradition (2012), both published by Brill. More recently, she has participated in a project under the aegis of University Paris-Sorbonne and the Bibliothèque nationale de France on Kalila wa Dimna manuscripts, which resulted in the publication of “Intertextual Animals: Illustrated Kalila wa Dimna Manuscripts in Context” (Brill, 2022). She also continues to study and publish illustrated manuscripts of other various texts, such as “Two Illustrated Mamluk Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana: the al-Jāḥiẓ Kitāb al-Ḥayawān and the Ibn Buṭlān Risālat Da‘wat al-Aṭibbā’” (2023).


Curatorial work

Her research is expressed not only in publications but also in public engagement through lectures, key notes, workshops and exhibitions. To cite just a few examples, in 2022-23 she was advisor to the exhibition at the Brunei Gallery (SOAS) The Future of Traditions, Writing Pictures: Contemporary Art from the Middle East. She was the curator and editor of the catalogue of the major exhibition to celebrate the centenary of SOAS Art and Music from the SOAS Collections (2017). This stems from an earlier 2007 project on the SOAS historical and art historical collections which resulted in a publication and exhibition at the Brunei Gallery titled Objects of Instruction, Treasures of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Generously funded by the Foyle Foundation and the AHRC, the exhibition culminated in a permanent, rotating display of SOAS artistic and archival Treasures in the Foyle Special Collections Gallery. This is an important project aimed at publicizing the School’s remarkably rich but little known artistic and archival collections.

Prof. Contadini has been invited to distinguished research positions internationally, as, for example, Visiting Professor at the Harvard University Centre for Renaissance Studies (2024); Bologna University’s Institute for Advanced Studies (2020); Visiting Professor at Paris’ College de France and EHSS (2019); Heidelberg University (2009-2011). She is also the recipients of various prices and honours.

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Mr Gregory Bilotto The Context of Fāţimid Metalwork
Mr Jasdip Singh Dhillon Changes beyond the surface: Tracking the relationship between paper-making and human change in the Indus river basin region from 1000-1947 through a study of historical paper specimens
Keramat Fathinia Historical and aesthetical evolution of Siāh-Mashq in Persian calligraphy with a focus on the works of Mirzā Qulāmrizā over the Qājār period Iran

Elizabeth Kelly A Study of the Zoomorphic Incense Burners of Medieval Khurasan
Kasia Ploskonka Contesting Convention: Contemporary Art within the Political Landscape of Post-Soviet Central Asia
Katy Shahandeh Rising from the Ashes: The Semiotics of Subversion in the Works of Contemporary Iranian Women Artists of the "Burnt Generation" (working title).
Giada Vercelli Reassessing Chinoiserie: ornamental, didactic, or admonitory? Wilderness and the Regimes of Botany and Zoology in an eighteenth-century Sabaudian room ‘alla foggia chinese’.


Contact Anna