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Finding aid for the Oleg Grabar papers, 1898-2009
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Oleg Grabar papers
    Date (inclusive): 1898-2009
    Number: 2012.M.7
    Creator/Collector: Grabar, Oleg
    Physical Description: 55.6 linear feet (126 boxes, 6 flatfile folders)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The Oleg Grabar papers document the career of the scholar who transformed the field of Islamic art history in the United States. Compiled over more than fifty years, the archive contains thousands of photographs, slides, notes, specialized and hard-to-find research materials, unpublished works including lectures and student theses, historical maps, and ephemera. A small amount of material, especially photographs of Byzantine art and architecture, originally collected by his father, André Grabar, is also included.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English and French with some German and other languages.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Oleg Grabar, the distinguished scholar and professor of Islamic art and architecture, was almost destined to be an academic. By the time he was born on November 3, 1929, his father André Grabar, who had left Russia after the Revolution, was teaching art history at the University of Strasbourg in France and well on his way to becoming the pre-eminent Byzantinist of his generation. In 1938, André Grabar accepted the chair of Christian Archaeology at the École pratique des hautes études and the family moved to Paris. The young Oleg Grabar, fluent in French and Russian, grew up in this intense, highly intellectual, French academic environment, immersed in the ideas of his father's friends and colleagues, including scholars such as Jean Sauvaget, Marc Bloch and Ernst Kantorowicz.
    Oleg Grabar developed a philological and historical interest in Eastern cultures as a teenager. After attempting to learn Chinese on his own, he was introduced to the Arab world by Sauvaget. Preparing for the École normale superieure, Grabar attended the University of Paris from which he earned three certificats de licence in Ancient (1948), Medieval (1950) and Modern (1950) History. When André Grabar accepted an appointment at Dumbarton Oaks in 1948, Oleg accompanied the family to the United States. He enrolled at Harvard University, staying in the United States when his family returned to France, and received a B.A. in Medieval History in 1950. In January of 1951 Grabar enrolled at Princeton University, planning to continue his study of history. Soon, however, Grabar's dissatisfaction with Princeton's history program led him to move toward the department of Art and Archaeology, and it was there that he developed his interest in Islamic art. Grabar received an M.A. in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1955 in a special combined program of Oriental Languages and Literature and the History of Art, with a dissertation on the art and ceremony of the Umayyad court.
    Grabar had a long academic career. He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1954 as an instructor in the History of Art and progressed through the academic ranks, becoming a full professor in 1964. Grabar left Michigan in 1969 to return to Harvard, where he was the first professor to teach Islamic art. In 1980 he was appointed to the newly created Aga Khan Professorship of Islamic art, a position he would hold until his retirement from Harvard in 1990. Grabar then joined the faculty of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from which he retired for a second time in 1998. A charismatic teacher and inspiring mentor, Grabar supervised over 60 doctoral dissertations, literally staffing the ranks of professors, curators and scholars of Islamic art and architecture, in the United States and abroad, in the later twentieth century.
    A prolific scholar, Oleg Grabar authored over 20 books and 120 articles. His early work was notable for applying a more contextualist approach to the study of Islamic art than his predecessors. Informed by his historical training, Grabar generally focused on what art could tell us about Islamic culture as a whole, rather than on objects solely as works of art. In a world of ever-increasing specialization, perhaps the most striking aspect of Grabar's scholarly output is its range: from standard reference works, like his contribution to the Pelican History of Art series, to detailed scholarly books and articles, to lavishly illustrated books attractive to a more general readership. He worked on areas and topics ranging from architecture to manuscript illumination to aesthetics, from Moorish Spain to Mughal India to Jerusalem.
    In addition to teaching and publishing, Grabar took on numerous other duties, serving as an excavator, a curator, and an administrator at various times. In 1982, Grabar founded Muqarnas, a journal devoted to Islamic visual culture, and he had earlier served as an editor for Ars Orientalis (1957-1970). He served as an advocate for all aspects of Islamic art and architecture, contemporary as well as historical, working to rid the art history canon of its Western bias. He had longstanding relationships with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and with the organizations under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network. He also sought to popularize Islamic art with a general audience through public lectures and films. In recognition of his service to the study of Islamic art, Grabar was the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Charles Lang Freer medal (2001) and the Chairman's Award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2010), as well as two festschrifts (1993 and 2008).
    After his retirement in 1998, Grabar remained active in the field. He continued to publish, lecture, and travel extensively throughout America, Europe, and the Middle East until shortly before his death on January 8, 2011.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, except for unreformatted digital files.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Oleg Grabar papers, 1898-2009, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2012.M.7

    Acquisition Information

    Gifts of Prof. Oleg and Ms. Terri Grabar. Acquired as a series of gifts between 2001 and 2012.

    Processing History

    Much of the collection was rehoused by the Registrar as shipments were received. In 2012-2013 Ann Harrison processed and cataloged the collection.

    Related Archival Materials

    See also the 1998 Oleg Grabar oral history interview: The practice of Islamic art history ( Accession no. 940109, bx. 45 ).
    Further Oleg Grabar archival material is held by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

    Separated Materials

    In 1995 the Getty Research Institute acquired Oleg Grabar's library, which also included volumes originally owned by his father André Grabar. Consisting of several thousand titles, this collection, the André and Oleg Grabar Library, was integrated into the GRI Library's general collections and can be traced through a provenance search under the collection name. With the subsequent gift of the Oleg Grabar papers, further publications were received and also separated to the library with the same provenance designation.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Oleg Grabar papers document the career of the scholar who transformed the field of Islamic art history in the United States. Compiled over more than fifty years, the archive contains thousands of photographs, slides, notes, specialized and hard-to-find research materials, unpublished works including lectures and student theses, historical maps, and ephemera. A small amount of material, especially photographs of Byzantine art and architecture, originally collected by André Grabar is also included.
    Focusing on Grabar's fieldwork and site documentation, the first series contains the majority of the original material in the archive. Notes, drawings and photographs record Grabar's excavation work, detailed on-site studies, site surveys and study travels. Unique photographs, in the form of prints, negatives and slides, display images ranging from sites in obscure areas of the Middle East or Central Asia to well-known monuments, such as the Alhambra or the Dome of the Rock, captured with Grabar's eye for special details. The earlier photographs are particularly important for documenting the mid-twentieth-century state of preservation before subsequent alterations or even destruction of monuments.
    Research materials assembled by Oleg Grabar for his publications and projects comprise the bulk of the archive. Offprints and photocopies of articles form the overwhelming majority of the material, but occasionally notes, letters received, photographs and drawings are included. Since almost all of the material in this series is available through other sources, its value lies in the aggregation for ease of research and in the snapshot it presents of Oleg Grabar's intellectual landscape. The material testifies to the scope of Grabar's interests, covering all areas of Islamic art and architecture, and related historical and cultural issues and literary topics in the Islamic world, as well as both its antecedents and contemporary developments in the Classical and post-Classical worlds, in the Byzantine sphere and the Medieval West.
    Three small series relating to Grabar's writings, correspondence, and faculty and professional service complete the archive. Included in these series are a few drafts of lectures and publication production material, as well as a scattering of correspondence and materials relating to two courses Grabar taught at Harvard. Grabar's work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the various entities funded by the Aga Khan Development Network is more fully documented.
    In order to facilitate access, the names of sites and monuments used in this finding aid conform to the preferred usage of ArchNet, the online architectural community sponsored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Other transliterations of Arabic generally follow Grabar's usage.


    Arranged in five series: Series I. Fieldwork and site documentation, 1927-2002, undated; Series II. Research materials, 1898-2009, undated; Series III. Lectures and writings, 1988-2000, undated; Series IV. Correspondence, 1935-1995, undated; Series V. Faculty and professional service, 1975-2006, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Islamic architecture
    Islamic art

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Color slides
    Negatives (photographic)
    Photographic prints


    Grabar, André, 1896-1990