Justin Willson  Postgraduate Research Associate


Justin Willson

Postgraduate Research AssociateMedieval and Byzantine


Ph.D., Princeton University, January 2021

Justin Willson specializes in medieval art with a focus on Byzantium and Russia. His dissertation, “Early Russian Art, 14th -16th Centuries: A Study in Moods,” blends archival work with theory to offer a modernizing look at the way art was interpreted, historicized, and valued in Muscovy. Justin wrote his dissertation under Professors Charles Barber, Beatrice Kitzinger and Paul Bushkovitch, after which he joined the Department as a Lecturer and Post-graduate Research Associate. 

Recent projects have explored Neoplatonic texts of art theory, the interplay between public sculpture and the decorative arts in Constantinople, and theories of Jerusalem mimesis in early modern Muscovy. His essay “Virtue Idealized in the Palace Murals of Ivan the Terrible” won first prize at the 2020 North East Slavic, East European and Eurasian Conference, and his study of trinitarian diagrams refuting the Filioque, “On the Aesthetic of Diagrams in Byzantine Art,” won second prize in the 2019 graduate essay competition through the International Center of Medieval Art.  

While focused on medieval art, Justin maintains a wider interest in the longevity of the humanities. This year, with Earnestine Qiu, he is leading the book club, “Race before Modernity,” co-sponsored by the Program in Medieval Studies and Princeton Humanities Council. Key questions that he continues to explore in his writing are philosophy’s relation to art, and the nature of value, beauty, and the sacred. As a pianist, he enjoys composing and performing folk music, while probably his greatest side interest remains reading and writing poetry and translating Russian verse. 

Justin returned to academia in 2013 after five years of teaching high school literature and running a neighborhood rehabilitation nonprofit in Southwest Georgia. He studied philosophy and literature as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia and worked broadly in visiting programs at Yale and the University of Chicago before joining the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton in 2015. 

Justin’s research has been supported by the Seeger ’52 Center for Hellenic Studies, the Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, and Hillwood Estates, Museum & Gardens. In 2019-2020 he was a fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton, and in 2018-2019 he held a Fulbright Grant at Moscow State University where he worked with Professor Engelina Sergeevna Smirnova and Professor Aleksandr Sergeevich Preobrazhensky. 

Peer-reviewed articles

“The ho Ôn (ὁ ὤν) Inscription in Christ’s Halo,” Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 71 (2021) [issued in winter - 10,012 words]. 

“The Origin of the Crafts according to Byzantine Rosette Caskets,” West 86th 27, no. 2 (2020) [issued in January] 

“Theodore Pediasimos’s ‘Theorems on the Nimbi of the Saints’,” Byzantinoslavica: Revue internationale des études byzantines 78 (2020): 203-39. 

“A Meadow that Lifts the Soul: Originality as Anthologizing in the Byzantine Church Interior,” Journal of the History of Ideas 81, no. 1 (2020): 1-21. 

“Reading with the Evangelists: Portrait, Gesture, and Interpretation in the Byzantine Gospel Book,” Studies in Iconography 41 (2020): 67-103. 

“A Gift No More: A Byzantine Reliquary of the Holy Cross,” Res: Anthropology & Aesthetics 71/72 (2019): 131-44. 

Peer-reviewed essays

“The Allegory of Wisdom in Chrelja’s Tower seen through Philotheos Kokkinos,” in Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages, ed. Maria Alessia Rossi and Alice Isabella Sullivan (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 1-27. 

“The Literalist Mindset of Early Muscovite Painting,” in Enigma in Medieval Slavic Culture, ed. Ágnes Kriza (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021).