In Memoriam - Anthony Welch (1942-2021)

Ashley Dimmig's picture

Anthony Welch

29 April 1942 - 10 February 2021


It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Anthony Welch, noted art historian, scholar and academic leader. Tony had a long and distinguished career at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, beginning in 1971 as a lecturer with the Department of History in Art (now Art History & Visual Studies) and progressing to full professor in 1980. He also served as Associate Dean (1982-1985) before becoming the longest-serving Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts for a remarkable 13 years (1985-1998).


In the 1960s and early 1970s, there were few opportunities in North America to study Islamic art history. In the US, only Harvard University, New York University and the University of Michigan offered degrees in the subject. When he took up his position at the University of Victoria in 1971, Tony was the first fulltime lecturer in Islamic art history in Canada, and he remained the only one for much of his career.


Despite his administrative duties, Tony continued to teach throughout his career. He was an enthusiastic and inspiring lecturer, whose passion for the field of Islamic art history was immediately evident to all who knew him and which served to motivate and excite his many students. As a teacher, he was kind and encouraging and always willing to take the time to talk to any student individually, even during the years when his administrative duties weighed heavily upon him. He greatly influenced the careers of many of his students, especially those who continued on to study with him at the MA and PhD levels.


Having received his doctorate from Harvard in 1972, Tony’s dissertation formed the basis of his book, Artists for the Shah: Late Sixteenth-Century Painting at the Imperial Court of Iran (Yale University Press, 1976). Between 1972 and 1978, his four-volume catalogue, Collection of Islamic Art: Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was privately published by Prince Sadruddin; this was an especially important contribution to the field as it made available material that was at the time little known.


In the early years of his career, Tony curated several exhibitions, each time authoring an accompanying catalogue of the same name. The first of these, entitled Shah ‘Abbas and the Arts of Isfahan, took place at The Asia Society in New York in 1973. A second exhibition, Calligraphy in the Arts of the Muslim World, was unique in its time for its singular focus on calligraphy, specifically the inscriptions found on various media and the inclusion of a translation of each one. This exhibition, too, opened at The Asia Society, in 1979, and then, over the following months, travelled to three other venues in the US. At Harvard, Tony had studied under the supervision of the renowned connoisseur and collector of, and lecturer on, Islamic painting, Stuart Cary Welch, with whom he co-curated the exhibition Arts of the Islamic Book: The Collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, which was first shown at the The Asia Society, in 1982, and then also travelled to three other venues in the US.  


In later years his scholarly interests turned more to South Asia. Despite his increased administrative responsibilities, this engagement led to the publication of important studies on Delhi Sultanate and Mughal architecture, epigraphy, urbanism and landscape design, including, (co-authored with Howard Crane) “The Tughluqs: Master builders of the Dehli Sultanate,” Muqarnas 1 (1984): 123–36; “Architectural patronage and the past: The Tughluq sultans of India,” Muqarnas 10 (1993): 311–22; (co-authored with Hussein Keshani and Alexandra Bain), “Epigraphs, scripture and architecture,” Muqarnas 19 (2002): 12–43; and  

“The Emperor’s Grief: Two Mughal Tombs,” Muqarnas 25 (2008): 255-273. He also published on other topics including hydraulic engineering and Indian manuscript painting.


In the latter part of his career at the University of Victoria, he turned his attention also to cataloguing and analyzing the archive of architectural drawings made by Richard Roskell Bayne (1801–78), who worked in the Indian subcontinent, resulting in an article (co-authored with Martin Segger and Nicholas DeCaro) entitled “Building for the Raj: Richard Roskell Bayne,” RACAR: revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review 34.2 (2009): 74-86. Long a student of travelogues and their use for writing art and architectural history, he also edited, annotated, and wrote a substantial introduction for a translation by Clara Bargellini of the journal of a seventeenth-century Venetian traveller: The Travels and Journal of Ambrosio Bembo (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2007).


Throughout his academic career, Tony was a member of numerous departmental, faculty and university committees. As Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts (1985-1998), he was a significant and influential contributor to the administration and development of the university. Following his tenure as Dean, he served as executive director of the Office of International Affairs (1998-2003), during which time he travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and South America promoting academic agreements between UVIC and various international universities. He also played a role in the wider community, and in 1992 was awarded a Canada 125th Anniversary Silver Medal in recognition of his work (1987-1991) in the development of an Arts Policy for the City of Victoria.


However, it is perhaps Tony’s very particular and subtle sense of humour that will be most fondly remembered by his former students and colleagues. 


He is survived by his wife Hyesoon Kim, his son Nicholas, and his daughters Bronwen and Emily.


Submitted by Marcus Milwright and Elaine Wright

(With thanks to Hussein Keshani, Eleanor Sims, Lisa Golombek, Lesley Jessop and Janis Elliott for their comments and input.)