MA student Mo Zhang examines the portrait of
James Justinian Morier from the Columbia University
art collection, February 22, 2018
Alexis Hagadorn, Head of the Columbia University Libraries Conservation Program, shows to MA students Nina Elizonda Garza and Yixu Chen the 1835 edition of The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan by James Justinian Morier, March 1, 2018

Looking East: James Justinian Morier and Nineteenth-Century Persia was curated by Ada Berktay, Yixu Chen, Nina Elizondo Garza, Makiko Kawada, Wanshi Ma, Amanda Morrow, Allyson Richardson, Euan Wall, Cydney Williams, and Mo Zhang, candidates in the MA in Art History in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, under the supervision of Frédérique Baumgartner, director of the MA in Art History, and Roberto C. Ferrari, curator of Art Properties.

Looking East is part of an initiative launched in 2017, entitled “MA in Art History Presents,” that offers candidates in the MA in Art History an opportunity to conceive and implement an exhibition based on the Columbia University art collection. Comprised of more than 12,000 works of art in all media, the collection reflects all cultures and time periods, and is stewarded by Art Properties based in Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. Drawing on the pedagogical potential of this extensive collection, “MA in Art History Presents” allows students to engage with every aspect of the making of an exhibition, from researching and selecting objects to displaying and interpreting them for an audience. In doing so, it contributes to the knowledge and visibility of Columbia’s art collection.

Looking East features the portrait of the British author and diplomat James Justinian Morier (ca. 1780-1849) that was acquired in 1928 by George A. Plimpton (1855-1936), a publisher and collector who amassed a group of over sixty portraits of British writers that were eventually donated to Columbia University. In presenting this painting, dated from around 1818 and portraying Morier wearing traditional Qajar Persian clothing, along with the travelogues and novels focusing on Persia that Morier published between 1812 and 1824 and that are deposited today in the Columbia University Libraries, Looking East seeks to recapture the specificity of Morier’s visual and literary engagement with Persia at a time when Britain maintained intense diplomatic relations with this country, while at the same time examining the author’s larger relationship with the Orientalist movement.  

The curators of Looking East wish to thank all the people at Columbia University and beyond who have shared their expertise and lent their assistance with the conception and realization of this exhibition, including: Morgan Adams, Alexis Hagadorn, and the conservation staff at the Columbia University Libraries Conservation Program; the curatorial staff at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Carole Ann Fabian and Teresa Harris at Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library; Matthew Baker at the Burke Library at the Union Theological Seminary; the staff at the Preservation & Digital Conversion Division; Tim Trombley and Stefaan van Liefferinge at the Media Center for Art History; Layla S. Diba, Independent Art Historian and Curator; Paul Himmelstein at Appelbaum & Himmelstein Conservators and Consultants; the staff at Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts, University of Oxford; Rika Burnham and Susan Galassi at the Frick Collection; and Robert Simon at Robert Simon Fine Art.