Cecily Hilsdale

Cecily Hilsdale portaitAssociate Professor
(On sabbatical leave 2022-2023)

Professor Hilsdale specializes in the arts of Byzantium and the wider Mediterranean world. Her research focuses on diplomacy and cultural exchange, in particular the circulation of Byzantine luxury items as diplomatic gifts as well as the related dissemination of eastern styles, techniques, iconographies and ideologies of imperium. Other academic interests include the intersection of ritual and representation, gender and patronage, image theory, as well as the art and architecture of medieval Spain.

Her book, Byzantine Art and Diplomacy in an Age of Decline (Cambridge University Press, 2014) questions how political decline re-figures the visual culture of empire by examining the imperial image and the gift in later Byzantium (13th-15th century). Providing a nuanced account of medieval artistic cultural exchange this study reassesses the temporal dimensions of power and the changing fates of empires. It was awarded the 2015 Dionysius A. Agius book prize from the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean.

Professor Hilsdale’s research has received support from the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), Medieval Academy of America, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, and the Fulbright Foundation.

Her current research project focuses on late antique and early medieval treasure as the index of both power and loss. Studying treasure in this way provides the opportunity to reassess our relationship to the past—that is, our sense of historicity—as we try to make sense of those versions of the past that are championed and others that are elided. This project is currently supported by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2022-2026).

Selected Publications

“Imperial Monumentalism, Ceremony and Forms of Pageantry: The Inter-Imperial Obelisk in Istanbul,” in The Oxford World History of Empire, Volume I: The Imperial Experience, ed. Peter Fibiger Bang, C.A. Bayly, and Walter Scheidel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), 223-265.

“The Culture of Decline in Later Byzantium,” in Coping with Geopolitical Decline: the United States in European perspective, ed. Frédéric Mérand (Montreal; Kingston; London; Chicago: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020), 53-76.

“Letters and Letter Exchange in Byzantine Art,” in A Companion to Byzantine Epistolography, ed. Alexander Riehle (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020), 374-402.

“The Timeliness of Timelessness: Reconsidering Decline in the Palaiologan Period,” in Reconsidering the Concept of Decline and the Arts of the Palaiologan Era, ed. Andrea Mattiello and Maria Alessia Rossi (London and New York: Routledge, 2019), 53-70.

“Worldliness in Byzantium and Beyond: Reassessing the Visual Networks of the Greek Barlaam and Ioasaph,” The Medieval Globe 3, no. 2 (2017): 57-96. This special issue of the journal, edited by Christina Normore, is dedicated to A World within Worlds? Re-Assessing the Global Turn in Medieval Art History.

Translatio and Objecthood: The Cultural Agendas of Two Greek Manuscripts at Saint-Denis,” Gesta 56, no. 2 (Fall 2017): 151-78.

“The Thalassal Optic,” in Can We Talk Mediterranean? Conversations on an Emerging Field in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, ed. Brian Catlos and Sharon Kinoshita (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 19-33.

“Visual Cultures of the Medieval Mediterranean,” in Peregrine Horden and Sharon Kinoshita, eds., A Companion to Mediterranean History (John Wiley & Sons, 2014), 296-313

“Gift,” Studies in Iconography 33 (2012): 171-82. This special issue of the journal, edited by Nina Rowe, is dedicated to Medieval Art History Today: Critical Terms.

“The Imperial Image at the End of Exile: The Byzantine Embroidered Silk in Genoa and the Treaty of Nymphaion (1261),” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 64 (2010): 151-99.

“The Social Life of the Byzantine Gift: The Royal Crown of Hungary Re-Invented,”Art History 31/5 (November 2008): 602-31.

“Constructing a Byzantine Augusta: A Greek Book for a French Bride,” Art Bulletin 87/3 (September 2005): 458-83.

“Towards a Social History of Art: Defining ‘Mozarabic,’” Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue 5/3 (1999): 272-89

Recent Podcasts

Why is There an Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome of Constantinople?” episode 49 of Byzantium & Friends hosted by Anthony Kaldellis, May 6, 2021.

Byzantine Soft Power in an Age of Decline” episode 18 of Byzantium & Friends podcast hosted by Anthony Kaldellis, February 27, 2020.

Course Offerings

In addition to undergraduate surveys of ancient and medieval art and architecture, Professor Hilsdale offers more specialized courses on such topics as Art and Crusade, the Arts of Medieval Spain, Medieval Constantinople, and Medieval Pilgrimage: Creating Sacred Landscapes. Recent graduate seminars include the Advanced Pro-Seminar, Istanbul Imagined, The Medieval Gift: Anthropological Theory and Art Historical Practice, Medieval Encounters with Islam, and Visual Cultures of the Medieval Mediterranean, and the Pre-Modern Thing: Matter and Entanglement.

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