John Max Rosenfield Named 13th Recipient of the Charles Lang Freer Medal

April 4, 2012
News Release

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The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have announced that John Max Rosenfield, Harvard Professor Emeritus of East Asian Art, will be awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal in recognition of his contribution to the field of Asian art history. Rosenfield will receive the medal at a public ceremony Thursday, April 12, at 6 p.m. in the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium. He will then deliver a lecture on his current research.

Rosenfield has dedicated his 50-plus year career to strengthening mutual understanding between Japan and the United States, accruing numerous accolades as a scholar and a curator. Currently the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art Emeritus at Harvard, Rosenfield has mentored many in the field of Asian art history, including Amherst professor Samuel Morse who identifies “his deep compassion and belief in the fundamental goodness of the human spirit” as qualities that make Rosenfield a beloved teacher and cultural advocate.

“Professor Rosenfield’s highly original research and leadership in the field of Japanese art studies provide ample reason for awarding the Freer medal,” said James T. Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “But to those of us who have had the privilege of association over time, the lessons provided by his intense curiosity, unflagging enthusiasm and humility are the ones that matter.”

Born in 1924 in Dallas, Rosenfield studied art at the University of Texas at Austin before enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II. During his military service, he traveled to India, China, Korea and Japan, which fueled his interest in Asian art. Returning to the United States, Rosenfield studied at the University of California at Berkeley, Southern Methodist University and the University of Iowa, earning his Bachelor of Library Science and Master of Fine Arts degrees, before receiving his doctorate in art history from Harvard University in 1959.

Following teaching positions at the University of Iowa and UCLA, Rosenfield returned to Harvard to join the faculty in 1966. During his 25 years at the university, he served in various posts, including chairman of the department of fine arts, curator of Asian art at the Fogg Art Museum and director of Harvard University Art Museums. Rosenfield has also served on the boards of the Japan Society and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Rosenfield’s most recent book, Portraits of Chōgen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan (2010), traces the impact of a 12th-century Buddhist monk who, in response to years of civil war, rebuilt two major temples at Nara and so became, as Rosenfield describes, “a diplomat, fund-raiser, and contractor.” His book represents the first significant study of Chōgen to be published in the West.

The Charles Lang Freer Medal was established by the Smithsonian Institution in 1956 to honor significant contributions by scholars in the history of Asian and Near Eastern Art. Rosenfield will be the 13th honoree in an eminent group of earlier recipients; the most recent was James Cahill in 2010.

The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines.

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