ANANDA K. COOMARASWAMY was born in 1877, of Anglo-Ceylonese parents. After completing studies in Geology he soon became interested in the arts and crafts of his native Ceylon and India. In 1917 he relocated to the USA where he became Keeper of Indian and Islamic Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, establishing a large collection of Oriental artifacts and presenting lectures on their symbolic and metaphysical meaning. An encounter with the seminal writings of perennialist author René Guénon served to confirm and strengthen his view of the Perennial Philosophy. From this period onwards Dr. Coomaraswamy began to compose his mature--and undoubtedly most profound--works, adeptly expounding the philosophia perennis by drawing on his unparalleled knowledge of the arts, crafts, mythologies, cultures, folklores, symbolisms, and religions of the Orient and the Occident. In 1947 his plans to retire to India and take on sannyasa (renunciation of the world) were cut short by his sudden and untimely death. A representative collection of his extensive writings, entitled The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, was edited by his son Rama P. Coomaraswamy and published by World Wisdom.
Among the most important figures in the formation of South Asian art collections at American museums in the early twentieth century was the renowned scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1948), who served as the nation’s first curator of Indian art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston ( mfa) from 1917 to 1930. Though known primarily for his work on Indian art, Coomaraswamy spent his formative years in his native Sri Lanka, and established himself as an art historian in 1906 through his critically acclaimed study, Mediæval Sinhalese Art . This article considers Coomaraswamy’s early career leading up to his appointment at themfa, with particular attention to his writings on Sri Lankan art. Coomaraswamy’s subsequent impact on American museums in the post-World Wariiera is then viewed through the formation of the Sri Lankan art collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ( lacma ).
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