SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Professor John Carswell

ARCA London
  • Teaching
  • Research


John Carswell
Department of History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Professorial Research Associate

Professor John Carswell


After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1951 he 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. Since 1988 he has lived in Spain.

He is currently 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 is also interested in contemporary art and architecture throughout Asia and the interaction of Asian and Western culture from the medieval period onwards.



His early research included a study of the fastenings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the tattooing of Coptic pilgrims in Jerusalem, the Armenian seventeenth-century churches in New Djulfa, Isfahan, and the Kuthaya tiles in the Armenian Cathedral of St James, Jerusalem. The last two studies were published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford (1968,1972). His interest in Chinese porcelain n Syria and its influence on Islamic pottery led to surveys throughout the Near East, the Maldive Islands and the Indian subcontinent tracing the maritime routes by which it travelled. This culminated in his excavation of Mantai, a major emporium on the northern tip of Sri Lanka from 1980-1984. He then focused on the trade routes from China in central Asia, with surveys in inner Mongolia (Kharakhoto) and Xinjiang. For the past seven years he has been working in Aleppo with the German/Syrian excavation of the citadel, documenting the mass of excavated Chinese porcelain from the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties. In 2008 he was responsible for the exhibition of Chinese porcelain and celadon from Topkapi Saray at the Medelhavsmuseet in Stockholm. Amongst his publications are Islamic Bindings and Bookmaking (Chicago), Iznik Pottery, and Blue and White Chinese Porcelain (British Museum), and a new edition of George Hourani's Arab Seafaring (Princeton).