OUR INSPIRATIONS | Dr. Francesca Leoni

Leoni Francesca

Francesca Leoni is a lecturer at the Khalili Research Centre for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East at the University of Oxford. She also serves as the University of Oxford’s KRC research associate, Fellow at Wolfson College, and the Yousef Jameel curator of Islamic art at the Ashmoelean Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Her interests as a researcher include the history and circulation of technologies, Islamic arts of the book in pre-modern and early modern times as well as cross-cultural exchanges between the Islamic world, the Western world, and Asia. Selected publications include Eros and Sexuality in Islamic Art, co-edited with Mika Natif (2013) and Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam, exhibition catalogue, with Ladan Akbarnia (2010).

“The Shahnameh is considered the Persian epic. It is translated as the Book of Kings, and it was completed in around 1010, or over 1000 years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. And the Shahnameh tells the mythical history of Iran and really looks at the history of the most important dynasties of Iran from a mythical period into the Sassanid dynasty, so right before Islam spread into Iran, put an end to the Sassanid empire and eventually conquered and transformed the Persian-speaking world into part of the Islamic caliphate.”


“Rostam kills the White Div, the White Demon, this enormous monster …in order to eventually free the king whose name is Kay Kavus, and restore him on the throne of Iran.”


“Calligraphy is by far the most important form of artistic expression in classical and traditional Islamic art, and this is due to its relationship with the Quran, the holy book of Islam. And although it was an oral experience, a message transmitted to Muhammad and disseminated verbally by Muhammad through his immediate followers. In the decades immediately following his death, his companions and the supporters of Islam as a religion and as a political entity at the time decided to transform it, to fix it into a written text.”