Jaś Elsner

I was born and brought up in London, and then studied Classics and Art History at Cambridge, Harvard and London, taking my doctorate at  King’s College Cambridge in 1991. After a research fellowship at Jesus College Cambridge, I taught the art history of Greek and Roman antiquity at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for 8 years as a Lecturer and Reader, before coming to the Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellowship in Classical Art and Archaeology at Corpus Christi College Oxford in 1999. I have been a regular annual Visiting Professor of the History of Art at the University of Chicago from 2003 and in 2014 was appointed Visiting Professor of Art and Religion in the Divinity School and the History of Art Department there. I have held visiting attachments at the British School at Rome, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan, UCLA, the Institute of Fine Art in New York, Princeton University  and the Humboldt University in Berlin. I serve on the editorial boards of a number of Journals around the world and am joint editor of two monograph series, Greek Culture in the Roman World, with the Cambridge University Press and Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage. In 2009 I was elected a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Since 2013 I have been Principal Investigator in the Empires of Faith Project. I am married with four children and live in Oxford.

My main scholarly interest is the art of the Roman empire, broadly conceived to include late antiquity and the early middle ages including Byzantium as well as the pre-Christian Classical world. I began my researches by looking at the way art was viewed in antiquity — and this has led to an interest in all kinds of reception from ritual and pilgrimage in the case of religious art to the literary description of art (including the rhetorical technique known as ekphrasis and indeed the relations of art to rhetoric in general) to the more recent collecting and display of art as well as its modern historiography and receptions. Since the art of Western antiquity has such a privileged, indeed canonical, position in European and American culture, the study of its receptions is an exploration of more recent history’s varied, competing and often ideologically understandings of its own past. These concerns have naturally led to an increasing sense of the need to do comparative art history across and between cultures within an increasingly globalized world. Clearly Empires of Faith is a central aspect of this enterprise,  but I have also been involved in Chicago at the  Centre for Global Ancient Art in the comparative study of Chinese, ancient Greek and Roman and ancient Mesoamerican art and archaeology.

I  teach  students both in Oxford and in Chicago, and have supervised doctoral  dissertations across a very wide range of areas from Greek and Roman archaeology to Byzantine and early Christian art, from late antique history to the literary analysis of ancient historians and writers of declamations, from the literary criticism of descriptions of art in ancient poetry and prose to the history of the writing of art history in the twentieth century,  from the apology of contemporary pilgrimage to the reception of antiquity in both literature and images.



Major publications:

The Cultures of Collecting (editor, with Roger Cardinal), London (Reaktion Books), 1998.

Art and the Roman Viewer: The Transformation of Art from the Pagan World to Christianity, Cambridge, 1995.

Pilgrimage Past and Present: Sacred Travel and Sacred Space in the World Religions (jointly written with Simon Coleman), London, 1995.

Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: The Art of the Roman Empire A.D. 100-450, Oxford, 1998

Pilgrimage in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Antiquity: Seeing the Gods, Oxford, 2005, editor with Ian Rutherford

Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text, Princeton, 2007

Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture, editor with Michel Meyer, Cambridge, 2014

Life, Death and Representation: Some New Work on Roman Sarcophagi, editor with Janet Huskinson, Berlin, 2011

Saints: Faith at the Borders, editor with Françoise Meltzer, Chicago, 2011

Sarcophagi, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics volume 61/2 (2012), editor with Wu Hung

Forthcoming books include:
The Ark of Civilization: Émigré archaeologists in Oxford in the Mid Twentieth Century, editor with Sally Crawford and Katharina Ulmschneider, Oxford, forthcoming

Towards a Poetics of Late Latin Literature, editor with Jesus Hernandez Lobato, Oxford, forthcoming

Comparativism in Art History, sole editor, London, forthcoming
The Art of the Roman Empire A.D. 100-450, Oxford (second edition), forthcoming