Past Recipients

The Freer Medal: Past Recipients

Dame Professor Jessica Rawson (2017)

Renowned art historian, author, academic administrator and curator Dame Professor Jessica Rawson was selected to receive the 2017 Charles Lang Freer Medal for her lifetime work in Chinese art and archeology.  The medal was presented to the noted British scholar in a private ceremony in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 2017.

“Jessica Rawson joins an extraordinarily distinguished group of recipients of the Freer Medal, and she fully merits her inclusion in this Olympian gathering, for she has made outstanding contributions to the field of Asian art as an academic and a museum professional,” said Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art. “Her research has been pioneering and rigorous. Grounded in material culture, Jessica’s scholarship has shed light on the uses and significance of ancient objects and on the transmission of objects and ideas across cultures. As a museum professional her work has been consummate.”

Throughout her career, Rawson, former keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum and currently professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Oxford, has advanced the understanding of these areas including the relationship between people of China and Inner Asia. Her publications have covered extensive topics and time periods, including the Bronze Age and the Han, Tang and Qing dynasties.

She is the author of numerous books, including Ancient China: Art & Archaeology(1980), Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon(1984), Chinese Bronzes: Art and Ritual(1987), Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections(1990), Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing(1995), British Museum Book of Mysteries of Ancient China(1996) and with Evelyn Rawski (eds.) China: The Three Emperors, 1662–1795(2005) and numerous articles and book chapters, including “The Han Empire and Its Northern Neighbors: The Fascinations with the Exotic” and in James Lin (ed.) “The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China.”

During the course of her career, Rawson has been involved in a number of prominent exhibitions, including the British Museum’s “Mysteries of Ancient China” in 1996, and she was lead curator on the exhibition and catalog “China: The Three Emperors 16621795,” a Royal Academy of Arts exhibition presented in 20056.

In addition to her research, Rawson has taken leadership roles at museums and universities. Following studies at the University of Cambridge, she embarked on a promising career in the British civil service, which she left to pursue her long-standing passion for Chinese art. Between 1976 and 1994, she served as deputy keeper and then keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, before being appointed warden of Merton College, University of Oxford. She served as the university’s pro-vice-chancellor from 2006 to 2011.

Rawson’s career has been marked by honors and recognition from her peers and government. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the Scholars’ Council of the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and the Art Fund’s Advisory Council. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002 for services to oriental studies. In 2012, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Foreign Honorary Member.

Award Booklet

John Rosenfield (2012)

Art historian John Max Rosenfield was selected to receive the 2012 Charles Lang Freer Medal in recognition of his contribution to the field of Asian art history. Rosenfield, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, Emeritus, at Harvard University, became the thirteenth recipient of the award at a ceremony on April 12, 2012. Born in 1924 in Dallas, Rosenfield studied art at the University of Texas, Austin, before enlisting in the US Army during World War II. He took his first trips to Asia (India, China, Korea, and Japan) during his military service. Upon returning to the United States, Rosenfield studied at the University of California, Berkeley; Southern Methodist University; and the University of Iowa, earning a BLS, BFA, and MFA before receiving his PhD in art history from Harvard University (1959). Following teaching positions at the University of Iowa and University of California, Los Angeles, he joined the Harvard faculty in 1966. During his twenty-five years at Harvard, Professor Rosenfield held a variety of posts, including the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, chairman of the Department of Fine Arts, curator of Asian art at the Fogg Art Museum, and director of Harvard University Art Museums.

Rosenfield’s numerous publications deal with Indian and Central Asian Buddhist arts of the Kushan period, Japanese Buddhist painting and sculpture, and early modern Japanese painting. His 2010 book Portraits of Chōgen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan represents the first significant study of Chōgen to be published in the West. He has lectured widely, organized several exhibitions of Japanese art, and served on various boards, including those of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Japan Society. Rosenfield also was chair of the editorial board of the Archives of Asian Art and of the Freer and Sackler’s Shimada Prize Committee.

Throughout his career, Professor Rosenfield has focused on fostering a mutual understanding between Japan and the United States. He has received several awards for his efforts, including the 19th Yamagata Banto prize in 2001, which recognized his contributions to spreading Japanese culture outside Japan.

Award Booklet

James Cahill (2010)

James Cahill, former curator of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery of Art and eminent scholar in many topics of Chinese art history, was awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal in recognition of a lifetime of seminal contributions to his field. Cahill is the 12th recipient of the Freer Medal, which he received on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 11:00 a.m. in a public ceremony in the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium.

Over the years, Cahill’s scholarly writings and collaborative projects with other prominent Chinese art specialists have played an important role in the development of Chinese art history studies internationally. A specialist in Chinese painting, he has worked on major artists and their masterworks as well as lesser known painters, thereby broadly expanding subjects of study.

Born in 1926 at Fort Bragg, California, Cahill received his B.A. in Oriental Languages from University of California Berkeley (1950), followed by his M.A. (1952) and PhD (1958) in art history from the University of Michigan. In 1956 he traveled to Stockholm to work with Osvald Siren, a renowned Swedish scholar (and first recipient of the Freer Medal) on his monumental seven–volume Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles.

Later that year (1956) Cahill joined the Freer as curator of Chinese art. Destined for a leading role in the research and interpretation of Chinese painting, Cahill painstakingly surveyed the Freer’s extensive collection, leaving detailed observations that are still regularly quoted today. Working with colleagues John A. Pope, Rutherford J. Gettens, and Noel Barnard, he also produced the landmark publication, The Freer Chinese Bronzes (Smithsonian Institution, 1967), a work centered on the museum’s important collection of archaic Chinese ritual vessels.

In 1965 Cahill returned to California to join the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley, where he taught until his retirement in 1994. In 1973 he was a member of the esteemed “Chinese Archaeology Delegation,” the first group of art historians to visit China from the U.S., and in 1977 he returned to China as chairman of the “Chinese Old Painting Delegation,” which was given unprecedented access to painting collections there. He has received two Distinguished Lifetime achievement awards from the College Art Association and is currently professor emeritus in the History of Art department at UC Berkeley.

Award Booklet (PDF, 700kb)

The Shimada Prize

The Shimada Prize is awarded for distinguished scholarship in the history of East Asian art by the National Museum of Asian Art and by The Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies in Kyoto, Japan. It was established in 1992 to honor Professor Shimada Shujiro, who received international recognition for his significant contributions to the research of Chinese and Japanese painting and calligraphy. The winner of the prize receives $10,000.


Past Recipients

2010: Patricia Ebrey

A professor of history at the University of Washington, Patricia Buckley Ebrey is the author of numerous books and articles, including The Cambridge Illustrated History of China and The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period. She was awarded the 2010 Shimada Prize for her book Accumulating Culture: The Collections of Emperor Huizong (University of Washington Press, 2008). This text focuses on the profoundly influential cultural practices of the Chinese emperor Huizong (1082–1135). Starting in the late sixth century CE, China’s royal courts and educated elite collected works of art, particularly scrolls of calligraphy and paintings by known artists. By the time of Huizong’s reign, both scholars and the imperial court were collecting ancient bronzes and rubbings of ancient inscriptions, as well as cataloging their holdings. The surviving catalogs of Huizong’s painting, calligraphy, and antiquities collections list more than 9,000 items, and the tiny fraction of the listed items that survive today are among the masterpieces of early Chinese art.

Accumulating Culture has made “an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of Chinese art and cultural history,” said Robert E. Harrist Jr., the Jane and Leopold Swergold Professor of Chinese Art History at Columbia University and a member of the Shimada Prize Selection Committee. “Based on exacting and exhaustive sinological research, Ebrey’s study of Emperor Huizong’s collections illuminates the essential bond between the aesthetic and the political in imperial China.”

Ebrey received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1975, where she studied with Hans Bielenstein, David Johnson, and William Theodore De Bary. Among the honors she has received are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. She also received the Humboldt Foundation’s Research Award, given to outstanding scholars at the peak of their careers.

2008: Patricia Berger

Dr. Patricia Berger received the 2008 Shimada Prize for her publication Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China, published by the University of Hawai’i Press (2003).

Dr. Berger was awarded the prize for her novel approach to the study of art and architecture produced during the Qianlong reign (1736–95) of China’s Qing dynasty. In her book, Berger analyzes Emperor Qianlong’s patronage of Buddhist art, which was subtly orchestrated as a means of projecting and harmonizing multiple facets of his reign, particularly his relations with his newly acquired domains in inner Asia. In her book she also discusses the religious practices and artistic styles drawn from Han Chinese, Manchu, Mongol, and Tibetan traditions.

Berger received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the faculty of UC Berkeley in 1997 and now serves as the department chair and associate professor of Chinese art. Berger also held positions at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and professorships at Oberlin College and the University of Southern California.

2006: Andrew M. Watsky

The 2006 Shimada Prize was awarded to Andrew M. Watsky for his book Chikubushima: Deploying the Sacred Arts in Momoyama Japan, published by the University of Washington Press (2004). This book represents one of the most significant monographs concerning the art of the Momoyama period (1568–1615) published to date in any language. Its carefully argued main thesis is that the sponsorship of sacred arts by the Toyotomi, one of the warrior-class houses of sixteenth–century Japan, served in various ways to define family identity after the death of the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598. The book provides a new framework within which to understand a wide range of cultural production during the latter half of the Momoyama period.

Watsky constructs his argument through a rigorous, textured study of the Tsukubusuma Shrine on the sacred island of Chikubushima, located in Shiga Prefecture, north of the ancient capital of Kyoto. Dedicated to the deity Benzaiten, this profusely decorated monument, as the author demonstrates, is in fact a composite made up of an outer structure dating to the 1560s and a central core that was formerly a Buddhist memorial to Sutemaru, the prematurely lost son of the warlord Hideyoshi. Eschewing conventions in Japanese art history that tend to treat media in isolation from one another, Watsky analyzes the architecture, painting, lacquerware, relief wood carving, metalwork, and architectural coloring in an integrated fashion to understand the true nature of this palimpsest-like structure.

Meticulously researched, elegantly structured, and beautifully written, Watsky’s book exemplifies the ideals upon which the Shimada Prize was founded. The translated documentation in the appendix and 150 reproductions (more than 60 in color) reflect the author’s commitment to his subject and discipline and ensure that this study will serve for years to come as a veritable textbook for the art and cultural history of one of the most dynamic eras in premodern Japan.

Watsky received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and his master’s degree and doctorate from Princeton University. His book Chikubushima: Deploying the Sacred Arts in Momoyama Japan also was awarded the Association for Asian Studies’ John Whitney Hall Book Prize in 2006. Professor Watsky is associate professor of Japanese and Chinese art history at Vassar College.

2003: Stanley K. Abe

Stanley K. Abe, associate professor of art history at Duke University, was chosen from a group of twenty-seven international nominees to receive the 2003 Shimada Prize.

Abe is an expert in the field of early Chinese Buddhist sculpture and received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. Abe received the prize for his pioneering study Ordinary Images, published by University of Chicago Press (2002). It examines the little-known world of Chinese Buddhist sculpture created for patrons of modest economic and social standing. In contrast to most scholarship to date, which focuses on sculptures created and tied to wealthier patrons, Abe presents four case studies concentrating on more modest provincial examples of Buddhist imagery. His analysis suggests a critical re-reading of mainstream views relating to Buddhist stylistic development. In addition, Abe confronts current scholarly views linking wealth and power with sculpture content and concludes that there is little correlation between a patron’s social class and the style and symbolism found in Chinese Buddhist works.

“Abe carries the field of Chinese Buddhist art studies to a new level of richness. He confounds our outdated and untested assumptions about early Chinese Buddhist art in China, and his treatment of the phenomenon of ‘sinicization’ will be essential reading for all scholars of medieval China,” says Robert E. Harrist, Jr., the Jane and Leopold Swergold Professor of Chinese Art History at Columbia University.

2001: Zou Heng

The 2001 Shimada Prize was awarded for the four-volume report of key archaeological discoveries made at Tianma-Qucun in Shanxi province, China. It was produced by Professor Zou Heng and his team from 1980–89 and published in 2000 as Tianma-Qucun 1980–89 by Science Press, Beijing. This report on the site, near the great bend in the Yellow River, documents work carried out by the Department of Archaeology at Peking University.

Tianma-Qucun is the site of a major cemetery of the Western Zhou period (ca. 1000 BCE to ca. 771 BCE). The cemetery holds the bodies of the dukes of Jin, their consorts, and members of their elite. Remarkable among the finds are jade and beaded decorations, including jade plaques and pendants used to cover the remains of the deceased. The site provides the most extensive information to date on the ascendancy of jade as a funerary material—an innovation of the early ninth century BCE. The Jin State tombs are particularly important in documenting the change as they provide an almost continuous sequence of burials over 300 years or more.

A renowned archaeologist, Zou Heng led the group of archaeologists working at Peking University, Beida. Zou has been instrumental in training many of the archaeologists in China over the last forty years. Not only does this publication provide full descriptive accounts of the tombs and their contents, with excellent drawings and notes on all aspects of the finds, but it also documents the influence Zou has had on the field of archaeology.

1999: Kihara Toshie

The 1999 Shimada Prize was awarded to Japanese art historian Dr. Kihara Toshie, an official of Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Dr. Kihara’s two-volume treatise is written on the Japanese painter Kano Tan’yu (1602–74), regarded as the most significant painter of the early Edo period (1615–1716). Yubi no tankyu: Kano Tan’yu ron (The search for profound delicacy: the art of Kano Tan’yu), published by Osaka University Press in 1998, is the first critical scholarly work to interpret Tan’yu’s major contributions to the history of art in Japan.

In her writings, Kihara successfully demonstrates that Tan’yu used neutral zones of his ink paintings to discover ways to disrupt the expected visual order. He experimented with such methods as filling the untreated spaces with fog-like atmosphere and placing the areas in non-traditional spots throughout the painting, even in the foreground. Tan’yu thus pioneered redefining the painting surface as an opaque, flat plane. His inventive approach to composition deeply influenced the work of his contemporaries and those who followed, and his innovations became a defining element of Japanese painting in the Edo period (1615–1868).

As a specialist serving the Cultural Properties Protection Department in the Fine Arts Division of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Dr. Kihara’s current responsibilities include supervising conservation projects for designated cultural properties. She holds a doctorate from Osaka University (1994). Dr. Kihara was a Fulbright Scholar in the Fine Arts Department of Harvard University (1983–84) and a visiting lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University (1993).

1997: Su Bai; Li Zianting, Liang Ziming, Robert W. Bagley, and Jay Xu

In 1997 the Shimada Prize was shared by two publications providing valuable new information about early Chinese culture: Zhongguo shikusi yanjiu (Studies on the cave temples of China), by Professor Su Bai of Peking University, and Houma taofan yishu (The Art of the Houma Foundry), illustrated by Li Xiating and Liang Ziming with the Chinese archaeological report translated by Robert W. Bagley and Jay Xu.

Su’s study of Chinese Buddhist cave temples reassesses the theories of earlier scholars and proposes new interpretations regarding chronology and iconography. Su, a distinguished Chinese archaeologist, has been associated with the Department of Archaeology of Peking University for more than forty years. His book was published in 1996 by the Cultural Relics Publishing House in Beijing. The Art of the Houma Foundry is a pictorial survey of two centuries of Chinese bronze decoration as recorded in casting debris excavated from the largest-known ancient foundry site in the world. Featuring drawings by Li Xiating, photographs by Liang Ziming of the Institute of Archaeology of Shanxi Province, and translations of the archaeological report by Professor Robert W. Bagley of Princeton University and Jay Xu, associate curator of Chinese art at the Seattle Art Museum, this bilingual (Chinese and English) volume was published by Princeton University Press in 1996. This publication was selected as an admirable example of the benefits of joint East-West publishing projects.

1995: Hirata Yutaka

The recipient of the 1995 Shimada Prize was Professor Hirata Yutaka for his Japanese-language publication The Age of the Buddhist Master Painter. Published in 1994 by Chuokoron Bijitsu Press, this two-volume work is the first comprehensive history of Japanese Buddhist painting from the ninth through the fourteenth century.

Hirata’s book was selected as a seminal publication providing a solid, positive basis for understanding Buddhist paintings. This lucidly written book will serve as a standard source for future studies of Buddhist art. The importance of The Age of the Buddhist Master Painter will be especially appreciated by scholars and researchers of Buddhist devotional painting (one of the most powerful expressions of the Japanese sense of beauty) who are faced with the arduous task of placing these works into Japan’s social and cultural history.

Hirata, a professor at Kyushu University, has devoted his career to documenting Buddhist paintings and interpreting their significance. His publication also imparts information on the careers of artists and patrons whose profiles have never before been outlined in detail.

1993: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The first Shimada Prize was awarded to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City for The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang (1555–1636), a comprehensive examination of the life and work of China’s great Ming dynasty painter. Editor for the 1,068-page, two-volume publication was Wai-kam Ho, the Laurence Sickman curator of Chinese art at Nelson-Atkins. Judith G. Smith was coordinating editor. Essays were written by Wai-kam Ho and Dawn Ho Delbanco, Wen C. Fong, James Cahill, Kohara Hironobu, Xu Bangda, Wang Qingzheng, Celia Carrington Riely, and Wang Shiqing.

Contributions to the catalog were made by Ai Zhigao, Richard M. Barnhart, Joseph Chang, Hui-liang J. Chu, Richard Edwards, Shi-yee Liu Fielder, Marilyn Wong Gleysteen, John Hay, Maxwell K. Hearn, Wai-kam Ho, Jason Kuo, Chu-tsing Li, Pan Shenliang, Celia Carrington Riely, David A. Sensabaugh, Shan Guolin, Richard Vinograd, Roderick Whitfield, and Yang Chenbin.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum published the book in 1992, in association with The University of Washington Press, to accompany an exhibition organized by the museum under the auspices of the China Cultural Relics Promotion Center and in collaboration with the Beijing Palace Museum and the Shanghai Museum of Art.



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The National Museum of Asian Art Library originated as a collection of four thousand monographs, periodical issues, offprints, and sales catalogues that Charles Lang Freer donated to the Smithsonian Institution as part of his gift to the nation. With more than eighty-six thousand volumes, the library now is considered one of the finest repositories of Asian art resources in the United States.

Reading Room

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Room 2058
Reference desk: 202.633.0477

The library is now open to the public by appointment during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. To make an appointment, please email us at

Since it opened in the Freer Gallery in 1923, the library’s purpose has been to foster and stimulate study of the artistic traditions and cultures of the peoples of Asia. The library maintains the highest standards for collecting materials relevant to the history of Asian art and culture through an active program of purchases, gifts, and exchanges.

In July 1987 the library moved to its new home in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Today it supports activities of both museums, such as collection development, exhibition planning, publications, and other scholarly and educational projects. Its published and unpublished resources—in the fields of Asian art and archaeology, conservation, painting, sculpture, architecture, drawings, prints, manuscripts, books, and photography—are available to museum staff, outside researchers, and the visiting public.

About half of the collection consists of works in Chinese or Japanese. While the library’s predominant focus is on Asian art and archaeology, it also includes publications about American artists who were active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and whose works are in the Freer Gallery of Art.

Collection Highlights

The library’s collection is especially strong in research materials on Japanese ceramics, painting, and woodblock prints. It also has an excellent collection of resources for the study of Chinese painting, calligraphy, ceramics, jade, Buddhist sculpture, and ancient bronzes. Its strengths in the area of ancient Near Eastern art are Sassanian metalwork, ceramics, and cylinder seals. The library also has an exceptional collection of material on Indian miniature painting and sculpture as well as on Islamic metalwork, ceramics, glass, and the arts of the book.

Special Collections

The library holds a number of special collections:

  • Japan Art Catalog Project Collection

    The National Museum of Asian Art Library serves as the US depository library for the Japan Art Catalog Project. In this program, established by the Japan Association for Cultural Exchange with support from the Japan Foundation, art exhibition catalogues from Japan are given to the library to enable their use by the American public. These catalogues are available through interlibrary loan.

  • Rare Book Collection

    The library also has a rare book collection, highlights of which include Edo period Japanese woodblock printed books and Chinese books published in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

  • Paul Marks Collection on James McNeill Whistler

    In 2000 and 2004, scholar Paul Marks donated to the National Museum of Asian Art Library, rare books and other materials on American artist James McNeill Whistler, who was a close friend of Charles Lang Freer. This outstanding collection of more than one thousand materials was the fruitful result of many years of Marks’s painstaking efforts.

  • Conservation Library

    Housed separately in the Freer Gallery of Art is a collection of research materials on the conservation and restoration of Asian art.

Complementary Collections

The Smithsonian American Art Museum Library has material related to the American artists represented in the Freer Gallery of Art’s collection. The National Museum of African Art Library has works on Islamic art for those whose interest in this topic is broader than the geographic area represented by material in the National Museum of Asian Art Library collection. The Anthropology Library has an Asian culture collection, including folkloric, linguistic, and ethnographic materials that the National Museum of Asian Art Library does not collect.

Individual Media Tours for the Exhibition “Meeting Tessai: Modern Japanese Art from the Cowles Collection”

WHAT: Individually scheduled press tours for “Meeting Tessai: Modern Japanese Art from the Cowles Collection”
WHEN: [Open to the public] Aug. 13–Feb. 18, 2024
WHERE: Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art, 1050 Independence Ave. S.W.
WHO: Frank Feltens, The Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art

Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924) exemplifies the modern Japanese painter. Contemporaries praised his avant-garde works, yet Tessai created his nonconformist paintings in a traditional way, basing them on ancient Japanese art and Ming and Qing paintings imported from China. Tessai’s teacher Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791–1875)—nun, potter, calligrapher, poet, political activist—was at the vortex of immense political changes in Japan as the country’s feudal system collapsed and a constitutional monarchy was established. Rengetsu’s art, which harks back to inspirations from the 12th century, inspired a generation of modern artists like Tessai.

Meeting Tessai” highlights a transformative gift of early modern and modern Japanese paintings and calligraphy from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection. It is also the first major American exhibition in five decades to explore the significance of pan–East Asian influences—a pertinent topic in today’s interconnected world—through the work of Tessai, Rengetsu, and modern Japanese painting.