Justin Willson

Ph.D., 2021
Medieval and Byzantine


Justin Willson is the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History Leadership at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Case Western Reserve University. Justin specializes in medieval art with a focus on Byzantium and Russia. His research emphasizes the history of interpretation and premodern theories of aesthetic value.  

At present Justin is working on two books. The first, a monograph titled The Moods of Early Russian Art, blends archival work with theory to offer a modernizing look at the way art was interpreted, historicized, and valued in Muscovy. Research for this book has been supported by the Olivia Remie Constable Award from the Medieval Academy of America. The second book, volume 4 in the series “Sources for Byzantine Art History,” titled The Visual Culture of Late Byzantium and the Early Modern Orthodox World (c.1350–c.1669), is under contract with Cambridge University Press. This expansive archival project will present editions and translations of texts that reveal the intellectual vitality of cultural centers across and beyond the Ottoman Empire, encompassing the Caucuses in the east, Ethiopia in the south, Venetian-held Crete in the west, and Moscow in the north. 

While focused on medieval art, Justin maintains a wider interest in the longevity of the humanities.  In his work at the Cleveland Art Museum, he is developing projects through the Department of Public and Academic Engagement that build bridges between curators, artists, scholars, and various Cleveland communities. His most recent project involved bringing a curator of Judaica to Cleveland to give lectures, run workshops, lead gallery walkthroughs, conduct art study days, and participate in community outreach. 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 coming to Princeton in 2015. At Princeton, Justin wrote his dissertation under Professors Charles Barber, Beatrice Kitzinger, and Paul Bushkovitch (Yale). 

Justin’s research has been supported by the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, the Center for the Study of Religion, the Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity, the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, and Hillwood Estates, Museum & Gardens. He is the recipient of The Frank J. Mather Jr. Memorial Graduate Award (2019) and a Fulbright Grant (2018–19) to Moscow State University where he worked with Professors E. S. Smirnova and A. S. Preobrazhensky

Selected Publications

“Theophanes of Nicaea and the Diagram that Draws and Erases Itself,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 78 (forthcoming, 2024) [17,606 words + 3,997 word translated Greek text] 

“On the Aesthetic of Diagrams in Byzantine Art,” Speculum 98, no. 3 (July 2023) [15,502 words] 

Transferring Jerusalem to Muscovy: Maksim Grek’s Letter and Its Afterlife,” with Ashley Morse, The Russian Review 82, no. 2 (2023): 248-62 (Open access) 

The Terminus in Late Byzantine Literature and Aesthetics,” Word & Image 38, no. 4 (2022): 435–47 

The ho Ôn (ὁ ὤν) Inscription in Christ’s Halo,” Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 71 (2021): 395–415. 

The Origin of the Crafts according to Byzantine Rosette Caskets,” West 86th 27, no. 2 (2020): 202–15. 

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 Ideas81, 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. 

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.