Jessica Rawson

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Dame Jessica Rawson, DBE, FBA (born 20 January 1943) is an English art historian, curator and academic administrator, specializing in Chinese art. After many years at the British Museum, she was Warden (head) of Merton College, Oxford, from 1994 until her retirement in 2010.[1] She also served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Oxford University from 2006 for a term of five years.


An art historian, Rawson's academic background is in Sinology with a particular research focus on the Cosmology of the Han period (206 BC-AD 220) and its relation to tombs and their decoration. Educated at St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, West London, New Hall, Cambridge and the University of London, Rawson began her career in the civil service before moving to the British Museum. Between 1976 and 1994 Rawson served as Deputy Keeper and then Keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the Museum, before resigning to become Warden of Merton College, Oxford. She has been involved in a number of high-profile exhibitions such as the Mysteries of Ancient China.[2]

Rawson contributed with Evelyn S. Rawski and other scholars to the catalogue of China: The Three Emperors by Frances Wood.[3] The exhibition ran at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2005-06.[4]


Rawson is a Fellow of the British Academy, a member of the Scholars' Council of the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and a member of the Art Fund's Advisory Council. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours List 2002 for services to oriental studies.

In 2012 Rawson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Foreign Honorary Member.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Rawson is married with one daughter.


  • Chinese pots 7th-13th century AD (1977) London: British Museum Publications.
  • Ancient China, art and archaeology (1980) London: British Museum Publications.
  • The Chinese Bronzes of Yunnan (1983) London and Beijing: Sidgwick and Jackson.
  • Chinese ornament: The lotus and the dragon (1984) London: British Museum Publications
  • Chinese bronzes: Art and ritual (1987) London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum in association with the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia.
  • Chinese jade from the Neolithic to the Qing (1995) London: British Museum Press.
  • Mysteries of Ancient China (1996) London: British Museum Press.
  • China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795 (2005) London: Royal Academy of Arts.
  • (ed), The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, 2007 (2nd edn), British Museum Press


  1. ^ Oxford University Gazette, 12 February 2009, available online (retrieved October 2010):
  2. ^ Jessica Rawson, Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties (London, 1996).
  3. ^ Frances Wood, China: the Three Emperors, 1662-1795 (London, 2005). ISBN 978-1-903973-69-1
  4. ^ For information (retrieved October 2010): Scholarly reviews of the exhibition's intellectual legacy are awaited.
  5. ^ "Professor Dame Jessica Rawson elected to American Academy". Oxford University. 18 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-02. 
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Roberts
Warden of Merton College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Martin J. Taylor