John Lansdowne

John Lansdowne

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


John Lansdowne is an art historian of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with a focus on Italy and the East Christian world. He writes about the lives and afterlives of objects and images, the new meanings that objects and images accrue when brought into different cultural or ideological contexts, and pre-modern paradigms for issues in contemporary art and society. Several of his most recent projects have explored the shifting value and understanding of “Greekness” among artists and audiences in medieval Western Europe. John's research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Bibliotheca Hertziana, the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, and the American Academy in Rome. He received his PhD from the Department of Art & Archaeology at 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.