Fraction = Union: The Image of the Ecumenical Church, 1274-1492
John Lansdowne received his PhD from Princeton University and came to I Tatti as a Berenson Fellow in Spring 2021. He specializes in the art and architecture of medieval and early modern 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 recent projects explore the value and understanding of greekness in the medieval Latin West; these include topics such as pseudo-Greek glyphs, the “truth” seen in Greek icons, and the personage of St. Katherine of Alexandria. Other ongoing research examines the technical development of portable mosaic, and the representation of East Christian peoples and scripts, specifically on Filarete’s doors to St. Peter’s in Rome—the front doors of Western Christianity. 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, examines how 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 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 unique insight into the ecumenical metaphor of Christ’s fractured body in both Greek/Orthodox and Latin/Catholic ritual contexts at a critical juncture in the political 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 “known” world. Advancing a different model for comprehending 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.