Fraction = Union: The Image of the Ecumenical Church, 1274-1492
John Lansdowne received his PhD from the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University in 2019 and came to I Tatti this spring as a Berenson Fellow. He specializes in the art and architecture of the medieval and early modern periods in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, with a special focus on exchanges between Italy, the Byzantine Empire, and the wider East Christian world. Several of his most recent projects explore the shifting value and understanding of greekness in the later medieval Latin West, encompassing topics such as pseudo-Greek glyphs, the “truth” seen in Greek icons by the trecento Tuscan theologian Giordano da Pisa, and the personage of St. Katherine of Alexandria. Other ongoing research interests include the technical development of portable mosaic icons in Byzantium and Italy, and the representation of East Christian peoples and foreign scripts, specifically on Filarete’s doors to St. Peter’s in Rome. John’s research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Byzantine Studies at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, an NEH Postdoctoral Fellowship via the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Princeton’s Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte), and the American Academy in Rome, where he held the Rome Prize in Medieval Studies for 2015–2017.
John’s current book project, Fraction = Union: The Image of the Ecumenical Church, 1274–1492 examines how vivid visual allegories of Christ’s fractured body became a means to both conceptualize and represent ecumenical union––the idea of all Christian peoples united as one in an undivided, “worldwide” Church. The protagonist of the project is a well-known Byzantine micromosaic of Christ the Man of Sorrows, enshrined since ca. 1400 at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. The remarkable “career” of this object across the late medieval Mediterranean contact zone affords insight into the ecumenical metaphor of Christ’s fractured body in both Orthodox and Latin/Catholic ritual contexts at a critical juncture in the conflict between the divided Churches of East and West. Installed in an extraordinary triptych reliquary cabinet, the icon became the centerpiece to a grand microcosm of the Christian oecumene itself, the inhabited or “known” world. Advancing a different model through which to comprehend premodern notions of globality, Fraction = Union showcases the roles of art and allegory in creating a new, inclusive vision for the Church at the close of the Middle Ages: a mosaic made up of disparate parts, united in a cohesive ecclesiological body.