• Erik Thunø
  • Formatted Name: Erik Thunø
  • Position: Professor
  • Research Interests: Medieval Art
  • Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University

Biographical Information:

My area of interest extends from the early Christian period to the late Middle Ages, with an emphasis on the early Middle Ages. Italy is one geographical focus of my research, but I also cover the visual culture of the South Caucasus region with a special emphasis on Georgia. In my work, I engage conceptually with medieval visual representation and combine object-based and historical research with current approaches and theoretical frameworks. In past publications, I have worked on ninth-century reliquaries in Rome and medieval image theory, icons and semiotics, interactions between images and altars, the miracle-working image between the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the visual nature of script. My most recent book represents the first large-scale study on the apse mosaics produced in Rome between the sixth and ninth centuries. Here, I situate the mosaics within their viewer-oriented and ritual contexts and rethink issues related to time, repetition, materiality, vision, and the cult of martyrs. Within the framework of a global medieval art history, I currently explore the shaping of religious imagery during the earliest period of Christianization (4th-7th c) in Georgia.

Select Publications:


The Apse Mosaic book cover

The Apse Mosaic in Early Medieval Rome. Time, Network, and Repetition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015

Image and Relic. Mediating the Sacred in Early Medieval Rome. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2002

The Medieval South Caucasus: Artistic Cultures of Albania, Armenia and Georgia, eds. Ivan Foletti and Erik Thunø, Convivium, supplementum. Turnhout: Brepols 2016

Decorating the Lord’s Table. On the Dynamics between Image and Altar in the Middle Ages, eds. Søren Kaspersen and Erik Thunø. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006

The Miraculous Image in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance, eds. Erik Thunø and Gerhard Wolf. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2004


“After Antiquity: Renewing the Past or Celebrating the Present? Early Medieval Apse Mosaics in Rome,” in Urban Developments in Late Antique and Early Medieval Rome.

Revising the Narrative of Renewal, eds., Gregor Kalas and Ann van Dijk. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021, 177-205

"Early Christian Relics and Reliquaries," in The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art, eds. Robin Margaret Jensen and Mark D. Ellison. New York: Routledge, 2018, 150-169

“The Power and Display of Writing: From Damasus to the Early Medieval Popes,“ in Die Päpste und Rom zwischen Spätantike und Mittelalter. Formen der päpstlichen Machtentfaltung, eds. Tania Michalsky and Nobert Zimmermann. Mainz: Schnell and Steiner, 2017, 95-114

“Cross-cultural Dressing, the Medieval South Caucasus and Art History,” in The Medieval South Caucasus: Artistic Cultures of Albania, Armenia and Georgia, eds. Ivan Foletti and Erik Thunø, Convivium, Supplementum. Turnhout: Brepols, 2016, 144-160

“The Pantheon in the Middle Ages,” in The Pantheon. History, Meanings, Intentions, eds. Mark Wilson Jones and Tod Marder. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 231-53

Fellowships and Awards:

Novo Nordisk Foundation Guest Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies,

University of Copenhagen (2021-2022) 

Richard Krautheimer Professor at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max-Planck-Institut für         

Kunstgeschichte), Rome (2014-15)

Millard Meiss Award (book subvention), College Art Association (2014)  

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2007-2008)

Clark Art Institute (2004)


Editorial board member of Georgian Antiquities; Eurasiatica. Quaderni di studi su Balcani, Anatolia, Iran, Caucaso e Asia Centrale (Edizioni di Ca’ Foscari, Venice); Chronos. The Journal of the Ivane Javakhishvili Institute of History and Ethnology (Tbilisi State University); Convivium. Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean (Brepols Publishers, Turnhout Belgium). I serve on the advisory boards of the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (until 2024); the International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA, until 2024); the Lead Agency Project (Swiss National Fund) on Exchanges and Interactions between the Medieval Cultures of Present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia (University of Fribourg and Center for Early Medieval Studies, Brno). I am also one of the Principal Investigators of MSCA-Rise project (Euro: 1.000000) from the European Commission entitled Conques in a Global World, based at Masaryk University, Brno.



“Nobody’s East: The Interconnected World of South Caucasian Cross Stelae,” Whose East? Defining, Challenging, and Exploring Eastern Christian Art. Princeton Index of Medieval Art, Princeton University (2023)

“Heavenly Crosses and the Hovering Angels in Medieval Georgia,” Spaces, Landscapes and Social Lives of the Cross in Medieval Armenia and Georgia, University of Fribourg (2023)

“Localism and Agency. The Case of S. Foy at Conques,” Conques at the Crossroads of Histories. Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Centre Européen, Conques-en-Rouergue (2023)

“Pillar and Tree. Creative Bricolage in Medieval Georgia,” The Bible in Words and Images, Tbilisi State University (2022)

“The Life-giving Pillar at Mtskheta. New Evidence,” 7th Seminar on Armenian and Eastern Christian Art, Università Ca’Foscari, Venice (2021)

“The World in a Box?: The Sancta Sanctorum Treasure and Global Art History,” Rome in a Global World. Visual Cultures During the Carolingian Transition, Centre for Early Medieval Studies, Masaryk    University, Brno. Keynote (2019)

“‘All Eye:’ Some Thoughts on the Representation of Christ in the Early Medieval Apse, Johns Hopkins University, April 2012

Participation in international roundtable discussion on the state of Italian art history, Forum Kunstgeschichte Italiens, Munich, April 2012

"The Eye and the Apse. On Seeing and Being Seen in Early Medieval Art," the Ritchie Markoe Scribner '75 Lecture in the Department of Art History, New York University, March 2011

"'Living Stones.' Jerusalem and the Body," Visual Constructs of Jerusalem, sponsored by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and organized by the European Forum at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, November 2010

“The Early Medieval Apse Mosaic. Observations on Liturgy and Reception,” at the Delaware Valley Medieval Association’s annual meeting, hosted by Medieval Studies at Princeton University, December 2008

“Inscriptions on Light and Splendor. From Saint Denis to Rome and Back,” Inscriptions in Liturgical Spaces, Norwegian Academy in Rome, November 2008

“Church Unity and the Reciprocal Gaze. Considerations on Some Early Medieval Apse Mosaics,” Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, April 2008

“ From Holy Fragment to Material Artifact and Back. On Relic and Image in Early Medieval Visual Culture,” /The Interrelationship of Relics and Images in Christian and Buddhist Culture/, University of Tokyo, December 2007

“The Implied Viewer. The Case of Ss. Cosmas and Damian in Rome,” Claremont Consortium for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 2007, Kalamazoo MI

“Text Image and Time in some Early Christian Mosaics,” Visual Representation and Cultural History Seminar, Harvard University, April 2006

“The Word made Flesh. Text as Image in Early Christian Rome,” Tensions between Image and Text in Medieval Art, College Art Association, Boston, February 2006

“From Neglect to Sacred Space. The Discovery and Institutionalization of the Miracle-Working Image of the Early Modern Period,” The Sacred and Idolized Image, 28th International Colloquium of Art History, Universidad Nacional Autnoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Campeche, 24-29 October 2004

“Transgressing the Sanctioned Space: The City Moves Closer to God,” Sites et territoires de l’histoire de l’art, 31e Congrès du Comité international d’histoire de l’art (CIHA), Montreal, August 2004

“The Miraculous Image in the Italian Renaissance,” Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, March 2004

“Materializing the Invisible in Ealy Medieval Rome: The Case of S. Maria in Domnica,” Verbal and Pictorial Imaging. Representing and Accessing Experience of the Invisible 400-1000, University of Utrecht, December 2003

“The Enamelled Cross from the Sancta Sanctorum: Material and Iconography,” History of Enamel from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance, The Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities, The British Museum, London, November 1999

“Image and Intercession: The Apse Mosaic of Sta. Maria in Domnica,” Bilder in Texten - Texte in Bildern. Zur Korrelation und Kontradiktion von Text und Bild im Wirkungskreis der Bibel, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, October 1999

“A Monumental Reliquary: Santa Prassede in Rome,” 33rd International Congress of Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, May 1998


Current Interests & Research:

Art and Architecture of the South Caucasus

Medieval art in Italy

Carolingian art

Cult images in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Byzantine art

Undergraduate Classes Taught:

Carolingian art

Early Medieval art

Medieval art

Romanesque and Gothic Art

The Imagery and Architecture of Medieval Rome

Rome Summer Abroad

Sacred Sites in Christian, Jewish and Muslim Cultures

Graduate Classes Taught:

Narrative Cycles in the Middle Ages

The Mosaics of Medieval Rome: New Approaches

The Medieval Image. Concepts and Theories

Text and Image in Early Medieval Art

Methods of Art History

Visual Cultures of Medieval Georgia

Longer List of Publications