Justin Willson


Justin Willson

Medieval and Byzantine


Justin Willson specializes in Byzantine and medieval Russian art. Blending archival work with theory, his dissertation, “Early Russian Art (1418-1596): A Study in Moods,” offers a fresh, modernizing look at the ways that art was interpreted, historicized and valued in pre-modern Russia.

Recent projects include a study of the ho Ôn inscription in Christ’s halo and an edition of a neglected opuscule on the interpretation of nimbi by Theodore Pediasimos fl. 14th century. His study of trinitarian diagrams refuting the Filioque, “On the Aesthetic of Diagrams in Byzantine Art,” won second prize in the graduate student essay competition of the International Center of Medieval Art. 

While focused on medieval art, Justin maintains a wider interest in the longevity of the humanities.  Key questions that he continues to explore 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 while running a neighborhood rehabilitation nonprofit in South 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 Art & Archaeology department 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. For 2019-2020 he is a Graduate Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University.

In 2018-2019 Justin held a Fulbright Grant in Moscow where he worked with Engelina Sergeevna Smirnova at Moscow State University.

Peer-reviewed articles:

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

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

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


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