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Our new portrait: Patricia Crone

  • 01 October 2019

Professor Patricia Crone, not only a friend and Fellow of the College for 25 years, but one of the most generous female benefactors in our history. This year, 40 years since the admission of women at Caius, the College is delighted to unveil a portrait of Professor Patricia Crone to commemorate her loyalty, support and legacy.

Patricia joined the College as a Fellow in 1990. She was devoted to Caius and to the Institute for Advanced Study, the independent research centre in Princeton, New Jersey, where she spent the last eighteen years of her life. She was also passionately dedicated to the ideal of an academic life and the reality of her own research.

Her chosen subject, the origins and early history of the Islamic world, came to have increasing relevance to the modern world, as the major political events of her lifetime unfolded. A brilliant linguist, she challenged conventional scholarly views on the original relationship of Islam to Judaism, Christianity and other religious philosophies and traditions. 

Writing in Issue 17 of Once a Caian, our annual magazine, Editor Mick Le Moignan, recalls an interaction with Patricia: “She told me how happy she was to be back at Caius, where she had spent some of the happiest years of her life.”

Patricia had been a Tutor and Director of Studies in Oriental Studies for seven years, until 1997, when she was offered and accepted the prestigious Mellon Chair in Islamic History at the Institute for Advanced Study. Mick recalls, “She said she had created a niche for herself in America but it didn’t provide the total immersion in intellectual life and the collegiality she had enjoyed at Caius.” Later, when living in the USA, Patricia enjoyed keeping in touch with the College by attending receptions hosted by the Caius Foundation, in New York and Philadelphia.

This love for Caius led Patricia to include the College in her will; she left the bulk of her estate to the College. The late Professor’s bequest to Caius amounted to almost £3 million and her name is now carved in stone on the Benefactor’s Wall. One request of Patricia’s will was to bring the Cook Fund – a fund conceived by the legacy of Professor Stanley Cook to support the S A Cook Bye-Fellowship – up to “an amount which, in the opinion of the College, will ensure that there is always a Cook Fellow receiving the Fund, without interruption.” The College has approved this request, and Dr Irene Tinti will become the first Cook-Crone Research Bye-Fellow in 2019.

The College has also recognised Patricia’s generosity by renaming one of its Research Fellowships after her, The Patricia Crone Research Fellowship, with this funded using part of her donation to the College.

The new portrait was unveiled over the weekend by Dr Pippa Rogerson, Master of Caius, at a garden party in celebration of 40 years of women at Caius. With around 300 Caians in attendance, including some of the first women admitted to Caius in 1979, Dr Rogerson spoke about the dedication of Patricia to the College, and the impact of her legacy. “It is fitting to commemorate Patricia’s generosity to Caius in this excellent portrait of her. I remember her lively intellect and her contribution in so many ways to College life. Her life and work is an inspiration to Caians, particularly to our women students and those interested in Islamic studies. In this, the 40th anniversary year of admitting women to the College, we celebrate that we have added to the representation of women on the walls of the College.”

The portrait, painted by the distinguished British artist David Cobley, shows Patricia against a circular Islamic arabesque – an allusion to her lifelong interests. It is Cobley’s third portrait for the college, after Christopher Hum and Douglas Myers, but his first posthumous one. “Posthumous portraits are notoriously challenging, and many artists refuse even to attempt them”, said Dr James Fox, Chairman of the Portraits and Memorials Committee, “but David has produced an image that sparkles with vitality and intelligence.

The portrait will hang in the Cavonius Centre at Harvey Court where formal dining will take place until the end of the kitchen refurbishment project. Portraits of two of our sixteenth century female donors: Joan Trapps and Joyce Frankland will also hang in the Cavonius Centre this year. After dining returns to the College Hall, the College will find a suitable permanent location for these fine works of art.


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