John Lansdowne

John Lansdowne

Berenson Fellow
Fraction = Union: The Broken Body, the Church, and the World in Later Byzantine and Renaissance Italian Art
Portrait photo of John Lansdowne


John Lansdowne is an art historian of the medieval and early modern periods, with a focus on Italy and the East Christian world. He writes about the new meanings objects and images accrue when brought into different cultural or ideological contexts and premodern paradigms for issues in contemporary society. Several of his most recent projects explore the shifting value and understanding of “Greekness" in the later medieval Latin West. 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, 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. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 2019.

Project Summary

This project investigates how artists used vivid visual allegories of Christ's broken body in the Eucharist as a means to conceptualize and represent ecumenical union: the aspiration to unite Christian peoples worldwide into one, undivided, universal Church. The protagonist of the project is a well-known Byzantine micromosaic icon of Christ the Man of Sorrows, enshrined since ca. 1400 at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. Crafted from nearly 50,000 minute pieces of glass, metal, marble, and stone, the icon is among the most meticulous depictions of the human body in medieval art. The story of this icon, which journeyed from Constantinople to Rome via the Kingdom of Naples and other Mediterranean ports-of-call, affords new insight into the metaphorical meaning of Christ's broken body in both Orthodox and Latin/Catholic ritual contexts at a critical juncture in the political conflict between the divided Churches of East and West. Enshrined in Rome in an extraordinary triptych reliquary cabinet and ensconced by relics representing all corners of medieval Christendom, the icon became the centerpiece to a grand microcosm of the Christian oecumene: “the known world.” Ultimately, the project showcases the roles of art and allegory in creating a new, global vision for the Church at the close of the Middle Ages––a mosaic made up of diverse parts, united in a cohesive, ecclesiological body.