In Memoriam – Toh Sugimura

Tomoko Masuya's picture

It is with great regret that we note the passing of Prof. Toh Sugimura at the age of 88 on July 10, 2022. He was the first East Asian scholar of Islamic art and the first to discuss the cultural exchanges between Persia and China from an East Asian point of view.

He was born in Dalian, China in 1934. At the time his father Yuzo, a historian of Chinese art, was conducting research on Manchurian sites. Prof. Sugimura’s interest in Asian art and archaeology was probably nurtured by his father, who later worked for the Tokyo National Museum and Daito Bunka University and published many books on Chinese art.

After graduating from Sophia University in Tokyo, he was awarded a scholarship from the Iraqi government and studied Islamic art and archaeology at the University of Baghdad from 1959 to 1965 under the guidance of John Shapley, an art historian specializing in early Christian and Byzantine art. He obtained his MA at the University of Michigan in 1968 and continued his doctorate studies there with Oleg Grabar. His Ph.D. dissertation titled “The Chinese Impact on Certain Fifteenth-Century Persian Miniature Paintings from the Albums (Hazine Library Nos. 2153, 2154, 2160) in the Topkapi Sarayi Museum, Istanbul” was completed in 1981.

After starting his career as a curator at the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, he became an assistant professor at the National Museum of Ethnology, Suita in 1976 and a professor in 1987, soon after which the School of Cultural and Social Studies at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies was attached to the museum. Prof. Sugimura became its deputy director-general in 1996 and professor emeritus in 1997. From this year to 2005, he was a professor at Ryukoku University, Otsu.

Prof. Sugimura’s research was not limited to his famous works on Persian and Chinese paintings in the Topkapi Sarayi Museum but also included Islamic crafts such as pottery and carpets. All of his work was based on his profound understanding of the cultures of both East and West Asia. He played a central role in reaching out to the Japanese public with his knowledge of Islamic art and crafts by publishing many art books and catalogues and leading research projects. In particular, his curation of the carpet exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnology in 1994 is highly rated, and its catalogue is still regarded in Japan as the textbook of carpets even after thirty years. His enthusiasm for Islamic art, his pioneering insight into the cultural exchanges in Eurasia, as well as his kind guidance of younger Japanese scholars interested in Islamic art, will always be remembered.

(Tomoko Masuya, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo)



Selected works by Prof. Toh Sugimura:

Toh Sugimura, “Albums in the Topkapı Sarayı Museum, Istanbul,” Oriento (Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan) 14-2 (1971), pp. 93–107 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, “The Kuan-yin with a Fish Creel (Yü-lan Kuan-yin) in the Topkapu Sarayi Museum, Istanbul,” Studies Dedicated to Professor Namio Egami on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday: Archaeology and Art History, Yamakawa Shuppansha, Tokyo, 1976, pp. 377–97 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura tr., Ernst J. Grube, Filiz Çağman, and Zeren Akalay (with photos by Banri Namikawa), Islamic Painting: Topkapı Sarayı Collection, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1978.

Seiichi Masuda and Toh Sugimura eds., National Museums of Syria (Wonders of the World’s Museums, vol. 18), Kodansha, Tokyo, 1979 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura (with photos by Banri Namikawa), Persian Pottery in the Iran Bastan Museum, Tehran, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1980 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, The Encounter of Persia with China: Research into Cultural Contacts Based on Fifteenth Century Persian Pictorial Materials (Senri Ethnological Studies 18), National Museum of Ethnology, Suita, 1986.

Toh Sugimura, “Islamic Pottery in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia,” Tsugio Mikami ed. Islamic Pottery (Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 21), Shogakukan, Tokyo, 1986, pp. 138–73 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura tr., The Islamic World (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 10), Fukutake Shoten, Tokyo, 1987.

Toh Sugimura, “Westward Development of Taoist Paintings: ‘Four Sleepers’ in Persia,” Histories and Cultures of Asian Peoples: Studies Dedicated to Professor Yoshiro Shiratori on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, Rokko Shuppan, Tokyo, 1990, pp. 205–22 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, “Chinese Influence on Persian Paintings of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,” in Tadao Umesao and Toh Sugimura eds., Significance of Silk Roads in the History of Human Civilizations (Senri Ethnological Studies 32), National Museum of Ethnology, Suita, 1992, pp. 135–46.

Toh Sugimura, Woven Flowers of the Silk Roads: An Introduction to the Carpet Heritage of West Asia and Central Asia, Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, 1994 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, “East Meets West,” Minpaku Tsushin 78 (1997), pp. 5–36 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, “Islamic Art,” Toh Sugimura editorial supervision, MIHO MUSEUM South Wing, Miho Museum, Koka, 1997, pp. 287–311, 356–59 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura ed., Islam (New History of World Art, vol. 17 of Asian Art), Shogakukan, Tokyo, 1999 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, “Islamic and Chinese Ceramics of Central Asia,” “Central Asian Historical Sites and Ceramics” (with Tatsuo Sasaki), “Ceramics Excavated at Otrar, Kazakhstan” (with Tatsuo Sasaki), “Timurid Architecture and Decorative Tiles in Central Asia,” Islamic and Chinese Ceramics of Central Asia (Silk Roadology 7), Research Center for Silk Roadology, Nara, 1999, pp. 1–18, 46–75 [in Japanese], 151–54 [in English].

Toh Sugimura, “Dogan ve Dogancilik-Sarayi Albumlerinde Kus Resimleri,” Portakal Sanat ve Kultur Evi 23 (2001), pp. 112–23 

Toh Sugimura, “Islamic and Chinese Ceramics of Central Asia in the 15th Century,” “Blue of Samarkand,” Proceedings of the International Symposium on Revitalization of Traditional Ceramic Techniques in Central Asia, UNESCO. Tashkent, 2001, pp. 38–46. 

Toh Sugimura, “Whence the Birds of Prey in the Imperial Ottoman Albums?,” Portakal Art and Culture Magazine (Spring–Summer 2002, issue 6), pp. 102–113.

Toh Sugimura, “Islamic Ideas of Paradise and Their Representation,” The Exchange of East-West Motifs –Invocation of Paradise– (Silk Roadology 18), Research Center for Silk Roadology, Nara, 2003, pp. 1–41 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura, “Ceramics in Islamic Art,” Toyo Toji (Oriental Ceramics) 34 (2004–2005), pp. 5–12 [in Japanese].

Toh Sugimura and Xu Guanghui eds., Roads of Buddha: Cultural Materials of the Silk Roads, Toho Shuppan, Osaka, 2005.

Toh Sugimura, “Introduction,” Toh Sugimura editorial supervision, The Brilliant World of Persian Carpet, Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, Hiroshima, 2006, pp. 6–30.

Toh Sugimura, “Sanguszko Medallion-Animal Carpet,” Kokka 1363 (2009), pp. 52––55 [in Japanese with English summary].

Toh Sugimura, “Luster Bowl with Figural Design,” Kokka 1368 (2009), pp. 5–14 [in Japanese with English summary].

Toh Sugimura, “Venuses and Goddesses of the Ancient Orient,” “Female Representations in Islamic Art,” in Tadanori Yuba ed., Women and the Silk Roads: History of Artistic Exchange between the East and the West, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 2010, pp. 43–72, 125–52 [in Japanese].

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