God is beautiful and He loves beauty

Sir Archibald Creswell: Biographical Notes

Professor Sir Keppel Archibald Creswell was born in London in 1879 and died there in 1974. He trained as an architectural draughtsman and served in the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt in World War I. While serving as surveyor of monuments in Palestine and Syria, his interest in Muslim architecture was quickened and upon his return to Egypt in 1920 he commenced his life-long dedication to that field. His publications attracted attention within the broad academic strata of Europe and the Middle East and secured public and private support to sustain his rigorous routine of field work and research.

Prof. Creswell taught at Fu’ad I (later Cairo) University and the American University in Cairo, which purchased his unrivalled library. The University of Oxford and Princeton University conferred honorary doctorates in 1946 and 1947, in which year he was also elected a Fellow of the British Academy. He was knighted by the Queen in 1970.

Suffice it here to list his major publications, a litany now familiar to any who have attained distinction in Muslim architecture:

Early Muslim Architecture. Vol. I Umayyads A. D. 622-750 (1932); Vol. II Early Abbasids, Umayyads of Cordova, Aghlabids, Tulunids and Samanids A. D. 751-905 (1940).

Muslim Architecture of Egypt. Vol. I Ikshids and Fatimids A.D. 939-1171 (1952); Vol. II Ayyubid and Early Bahrite Mamluks A. D. 1171-1326 (1959).

Bibliography of the Architecture, Arts and Crafts of Islam (1961).

Early Muslim Architecture. Second edition in two parts (1969).

Supplement to the Bibliography of the Architecture, Arts and Crafts of Islam (1973).

When to these large tomes one adds innumerable articles on specialized aspects of Muslim art and architecture, one can only agree with the president of the Royal Asiatic Society who, when bestowing on Creswell the society’s Triennial Gold Metal, averred that he “had not only got to the head of his profession; he has created it.”

In writing of the wonderfully proportioned Qubbat al-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) in 1932, Prof. Creswell inadvertently paid tribute to his seventy years of work in his field, to Egypt and the Muslim world, and to the colleagues and students he inspired and who remain indebted to him, when he wrote, “…[when] the size of every part is related to every other part in some definite proportion …a building…becomes a harmonious chord in stone, a sort of living crystal.”

Prof. G.T. Scanlon
Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture
Department of Arabic Studies
The American University in Cairo