Ph.D. Student Arvin Maghsoudlou Wins Comini Fellowship

Award supports his study of precious metal objects from Persian antiquity

Arvin Maghsoudlou
Arvin Maghsoudlou

By Caitlin Drott

Art history Ph.D. student Arvin Maghsoudlou has received the second Alessandra Comini International Fellowship for Art History Studies at Meadows. With this $25,000 award, he will study often-overlooked art and objects from late antique Iran and Western Asia (200-900 CE). His research focuses on the materiality of precious metal objects from the Sasanian Empire, the last Persian imperial dynasty before the Muslim conquest in the mid-seventh century.

“This generous award has been highly consequential to my dissertation research as well as my academic development amidst a global pandemic,” Maghsoudlou said. “Since I focus on materiality – how an art object’s material qualities are interpreted and understood – it is crucial for me to be able to see and examine these objects in person.”

The Comini Fellowship is awarded to outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral students pursuing research abroad. However, due to COVID, the Comini Fellowship has allowed the 2021 recipient to travel within the United States if the research has an international scope. With this fellowship, Maghsoudlou plans to examine collections at The Cleveland Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Detroit Institute of Arts in summer 2021.

“Arvin is looking across international boundaries in the late antique world and questioning how Sasanian contact with the Byzantines or with China impacted their art,” Assistant Professor Stephanie Langin-Hooper, Maghsoudlou’s advisor, said. “His project is both theoretically modern and well-informed by his in-person study of these ancient artworks – a research process that the Comini Fellowship will facilitate by allowing him to travel to even more American museums to see Sasanian silver vessels.”

Maghsoudlou lived in Iran until 2017. He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Tehran and a master’s degree in Islamic art and archaeology from the University of Mazandaran. He applied to SMU’s Art History Department after reading Dr. Langin-Hooper’s research on Hellenistic Babylonia.

“Dr. Langin-Hooper’s innovative, theoretical approach to the art of the ancient Near East, and more specifically her inspiring engagement with objects and materiality, really stood out to me,” Maghsoudlou said.

While earning his master’s degree in Iran, Maghsoudlou studied Sasanian rock reliefs carved on cliffs. Maghsoudlou’s study of Islamic art informs his current research in Sasanian objects and the ways in which they were manufactured, circulated and experienced.

“They’re not just beautiful objects. These works tell us about courtly life and politics of the elite of the Persian Empire,” said Adam Herring, chair of the Department of Art History. “We think Arvin’s project is brilliant and will launch his career.” 

The Comini Fellowship was founded in honor of SMU Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art History Dr. Alessandra Comini, who retired in 2005. Dr. Comini has a legacy of international discoveries and awards. She received the Grand Decoration of Honor from the Republic of Austria in recognition of her contributions to Germanic culture. She also received the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.

Meadows announced its inaugural winner of the Comini Fellowship, art history Ph.D. student Alice Heeren Sabato, last year. After Maghsoudlou won the 2021 fellowship, Dr. Comini met with him on Zoom to discuss his travel plans and their mutual love for music and, of course, art.

“Arvin is a jewel in the crown of SMU’s emphasis on global thinking, and I am gratified he has been selected for a Comini Fellowship,” Dr. Comini said. “We had a lively exchange on Zoom. He updated me on the place of Persian antiquity in modern-day Iran. I, conversely, reflected on artistic gems of the Persian past and encouraged him to consider including ancient music as well as the visual arts. He is also open to new ideas. If I had to describe him in one word it would be noble.”

Meadows is seeking to permanently endow the fellowship in celebration of Dr. Comini’s legacy. To join the effort, click here to give online or contact the Meadows Development Office at or call 214.768.4189.