about Betty Hensellek

photo: standing under a detail of the first and largest Sasanian rock relief on a wall of the Dalaki river gorge near Firuzabad, Iran, August 2016

I am an art historian and archaeologist of Greater Iran, Central Asia, and the Steppe, specializing in the first millennium CE. My research projects investigate cosmopolitanism across Central Eurasia, addressing how and why material culture enabled transcultural systems of communication. My inquiries are grounded in a variety of media ranging from portable vessels to monumental architecture, and I am particularly interested in the role that dress and fashion played in shaping social interactions and intertwining diverse socio-political communities in this age of the Great Silk Roads.

I am now finishing my doctoral dissertation in the department of the History of Art at Cornell University titled, “The Age of the Polychrome Kaftan: a Sartorial System of Central Eurasia (400-900 CE).” This project, which I will turn into my first book, argues that diverse communities across Central Eurasia utilized a single garment type, the kaftan, as a flexible means to express mutable social distinctions within this cosmopolitan, polycentric milieu. I am working with both textile remains and representations of the kaftan in other media ranging from life-sized wall paintings to monumental rock reliefs and portable silver vessels.

Other current research projects and publications address the concept of fashion in the ancient world; the later and multiple lives of objects and monuments; the often unwieldy provenance of Eurasian objects that made their way into American collections in the 20th century.

From September 2017 through August 2019 I was the Sylvan C. Coleman and Pam Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Before arriving at The Met, I began working on my dissertation in Saint Petersburg, Russia at the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences and worked with the collections at the State Hermitage Museum (2016-17). In 2014-2015 I was a DAAD Gastdoktorandin at the Seminar für Orientalische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.

I received an MA with distinction from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2013) and a BA in Art History and a BFA in Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati (2011). 

Studying a Sasanian silver plate at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2018 (and wearing a blouse I made that is indeed embroidered with the image on this plate)