Named for museum founder, Charles Lang Freer, the medal has been awarded on an ad hoc basis since its inauguration in 1956. The Freer Medal honors persons, who over the course of a career, have contributed in a substantial way to the understanding of the arts of Asia.

Vidya Dehejia and Gülru Necipoğlu to Receive the 2023 Freer Medals

In 2023, as part of the National Museum of Asian Art’s centennial celebrations, the Charles Lang Freer Medal will go to Vidya Dehejia, the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor Emerita of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University, for her lifetime work in South Asian art, and to Gülru Necipoğlu, the Aga Khan Professor and Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University’s History of Art and Architecture Department, for her lifetime work in the arts of the Islamic world. The medal will be presented to Dehejia on April 28 and to Necipoğlu on October 27. (Editor’s note: The event on April 28 has been postponed.)

Named after the museum’s founder, the Freer Medal has been awarded fourteen times since its inception in 1956. This is the first time that a scholar of South Asian descent and a scholar of Middle Eastern descent will receive the award. Only two other women have received the Freer Medal previously: It was awarded to Dame Jessica Rawson, professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Oxford, in 2017, and to Stella Kramrisch, Czech art historian and leading specialist on South Asian art, in 1985.

“The Freer Medal is an important way in which our museum encourages and exemplifies excellence in Asian art scholarship,” said Chase F. Robinson, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Asian Art. “We are pleased to recognize the enormous contributions that these scholars have made to their fields. It is long overdue that women of Middle Eastern and Asian heritages receive the Freer Medal. The museum congratulates Vidya Dehejia and Gülru Necipoğlu on this award during the landmark occasion of our centennial.”

About the 2023 Recipients

Vidya Dehejia

Vidya Dehejia’s groundbreaking research spans millennia, from ancient Buddhist rock-cut architecture to colonial-period photography. Her work on wide-ranging topics, including visual narrative, gender, the meaning of the unfinished, medieval yogini temples, Chola bronzes, and artistic production during the British Raj, has staked out new fields of inquiry for the interpretation of Asian art, while her translations of Tamil poetry and Sanskrit texts have set a standard for art historical rigor. At Columbia University, as professor of South Asian art history from 1982 to 2003 and as the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian and South Asian Art from 2003 to 2021, Dehejia taught and shaped a generation of scholars. She also served as the director for the South Asian Institute at Columbia University (2003–2008) and was the acting director, deputy director, chief curator, and curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art (1994–2002), where she was responsible for several highly innovative exhibitions and scholarly catalogues.

Dehejia holds a bachelor of arts, a master of arts, and a doctorate degree from Cambridge University and a bachelor of arts degree from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University. Highlights from her impressive list of publications include Devi, The Great Goddess: Female Divinity in South Asian Art (1999), India through the Lens: Photography 1840–1911 (2000), The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India (2002), The Body Adorned: Dissolving Boundaries Between Sacred and Profane in India’s Art (2009), The Unfinished: Stone Carvers at Work on the Indian Subcontinent (with Peter Rockwell, 2015) and The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855–1280 (2021), based on her 2016 A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts.

The recipient of many prestigious national and international awards, Dehejia received the Padma Bhushan Award in 2012 from the president of India for exceptional contributions to art and education as well as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship from 2009 to 2012. She was the 65th A.W. Mellon Lecturer in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art in 2016.

Gülru Necipoğlu

Gülru Necipoğlu earned her doctorate from Harvard University in 1986 and has served there as the Aga Khan Professor and Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture since 1993. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University and a master of arts degree from Harvard University. Necipoğlu specializes in the arts and architecture of the pre-modern Islamic lands, with a focus on the Mediterranean world and the cross-cultural and artistic exchanges between the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Grounded in rigorous archival research, her multidisciplinary studies have addressed the aesthetic interconnections of Byzantium and Renaissance Europe, pre-modern architectural practices, and the role and function of ornament in the Islamic world and beyond, offering new and highly original perspectives on the arts and architecture of the region. Throughout her illustrious career, Necipoğlu has also trained and mentored numerous students who have continued to transform the field.

Since 1993, Necipoğlu has also served as editor of Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World and its supplements, the preeminent publication in the field, which has transformed the study of the arts and architecture of the Islamic world. Her own publications comprise a range of subjects, from studies in monumental architecture to intricate designs on portable objects, and have changed the understanding of the arts of the Islamic world. They include Architecture, Ceremonial, and Power: The Topkapı Palace (1991), The Topkapı Scroll–Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture (1995), The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire (2005, 2011), Treasures of Knowledge: An Inventory of the Ottoman Palace Library (1502/3–1503/4) (2 vols, coedited by Cemal Kafadar and Cornell H. Fleischer, 2019), The Arts of Ornamental Geometry: A Persian Compendium on Similar and Complementary Interlocking Figures (2017), A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, in the Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Art History (coedited by F. Barry Flood, 2017), and Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local (coedited by Alina Payne, 2016).

In recognition of her distinguished scholarly career, Necipoğlu is an elected member of the British Academy, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza, Italy.

Past recipients