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Rowland, Benjamin, Jr.

    Full Name: Rowland, Benjamin, Jr.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1904

    Date Died: 1972

    Place Born: Overbrook, Philadelphia, PA, USA

    Place Died: Cambridge, Middlesex, MA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Afghan (Central Asian style), Asian, Buddhism, Chinese (culture or style), East Asian, iconology, Indian (South Asian), Japanese (culture or style), mural paintings (visual works), Pakistani, and South Asian

    Career(s): artists (visual artists)


    Historian of South Asian art and Harvard Professor. Rowland attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. The remainder of his degrees and teaching were exclusively at Harvard University. He was granted his B.S. in 1928 and Ph.D. only two years later, in 1930. His dissertation, on the 15th-century Catalonian painter Jaume Huguet was written under Chandler R. Post and published in 1932. From 1930-41 he served as tutor at Harvard. During this time Post became interested in Asian arts and began to study Chinese and Japanese languages. He also established a friendship with the Boston curator Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy. In 1932-33 he was a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, where he traveled to Kyoto and Tokyo, taking forays to Beijing and New Delhi. In 1936-37 he traveled to India, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) researching a book on Buddhist wall painting. It was published in 1938 as The Wall-Paintings of India, Central Asia & Ceylon. It was while exploring the temple remains in Afghanistan and the Gandhara district of West Pakistan that he became fascinated with the influence of Greco-Roman art on Buddhist sculpture. This became the topic on which he built his reputation as a scholar. In 1941 he was both appointed associate professor and married Lucy Thomas. During World War II her served as communications officer in the Navy in Washgington, D. C., 1942-45. He was appointed full professor in 1950, succeeding Langdon Warner in responsibility for the Asian collections of the Fogg Museum. In 1953 his published the Pelican History of Art volume on India. The following year, he wrote a modest textbook for a cross-cultural course at Harvard, Art in East and West. The little book, like his Pelican volume, became a basic introduction for students of west art to the sensibilities of Asian esthetics and arts. Rowland, also a skilled watercolorist, exhibited his personal art work in many galleries at this time. In 1960 he was appointed Gleason Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard and in 1970 served UNESCO as the United States delegate to the Kushan Congress in Kabul. Although Rowland’s work was principally in (East) Indian art, he taught a wide variety of courses, most notably in American art where his students included Barbara J. Novak, Jules Prown, Theodore Stebbins, Jr., John Wilmerding, William I. Homer, and William Gerdts. Rowland was also a collector of South Asian art; he eventually donated his collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Rowland, like his contemporary Osvald Sirén, worked during a time in art history when scholars of western art could change fields to Asian art and, through personal instruction, become a major scholar in that field. Methodologically, Rowland worked in a connoisseurship/evolutionary styles continuum central to Asian scholarship of that era. He also addressed issues of patronage and iconology. Unlike his colleague at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, he did not embrace a mystical appreciation of South Asian art. Rowland, like his fellow Asianist, Warner, was noted for a disdain of “academic professionalism” which included committee work as well as the notion that professors should be narrow specialists or even considered “experts”.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Art and Architecture of India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. (Pelican History of Art). 1st ed. Baltimore: Penguin Book,1953; Art in East and West: An Introduction through Comparisons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954; The Classical Tradition in Western Art. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press, 1963; Jaume Huguet: A Study of Late Gothic Painting in Catalonia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932; The Wall-Paintings of India, Central Asia & Ceylon: A Comparative Study. [Introductory essay on the nature of Buddhist art by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, with a foreword by A. Townshend Johnson]. Boston: Merrymount Press, 1938.


    William Gerdts. “A Personal Re-collection” For Beauty and For Truth. Amherst, MA: Mead Art Museum, 1998, p. 13; The Dictionary of Art; Obituary, Artibus Asiae, 35 (1973):. 371-3; Coolidge, John, et al. “Benjamin Rowland, Jr.” Fogg Art Museum Annual Report, 1972-74: 29-32.


    "Rowland, Benjamin, Jr.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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