Corpus Christi College Oxford

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Prof Jas'  Elsner

Jas' Elsner

Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology and Art



I was born and brought up in London, and then studied Classics and Art History at Cambridge, Harvard and London, taking my doctorate from King's College Cambridge in 1991. I am married with four children. 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 Humfrey Payne Senior Research Fellowship in Classical Art and Archaeology at Corpus in 1999. I have been a regular Visiting Professor of the History of Art at the University of Chicago from 2003-13 and since 2014 have been Visiting Professor of Art and Religion in the Divinity School and the History of Art Department there. I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in July 2017.  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 and Princeton University. 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. Since 2013 I have been Principal Investigator on the Empires of Faith Project between the British Museum and Wolfson College, Oxford, which is exploring the visual cultures of the world religions in the Mediterranean and Asia between 200 and 800 AD. The major international exhibition arising from this project ran at the Ashmolean Museum from October 19, 2017 to February 15, 2018.


My main 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) to the more recent collecting and display of art as well as its modern historiography and receptions. Since the art of antiquity has such a privileged, indeed canonical, position in our culture, the study of its receptions is an exploration of more recent history's varied, competing and often ideologically understandings of its own past.

Teaching and Supervision

I mainly teach graduates within the University, although I do see some Corpus undergraduates who do specific papers on art history. At Oxford I have taught doctoral students 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, 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.

Major Publications

The Cultures of Collecting (editor, with Roger Cardinal), London (Reaktion Books), Cambridge Mass. (Harvard University Press) and Melbourne (Melbourne University Press), 1994. Translated into Japanese and published in Tokyo (Kenkyusha), 1998.

Art and the Roman Viewer: The Transformation of Art from the Pagan World to Christianity, Cambridge, New York and Melbourne (CUP), 1995.

Pilgrimage Past and Present: Sacred Travel and Sacred Space in the World Religions (jointly written with Simon Coleman), London (British Museum Press) and Cambridge Mass. (Harvard University Press), 1995.

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

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

Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text, Princeton (Princeton U.P), 2007

Recent Publications

The Ark of Civilization: Émigré scholars in Oxford in the Mid Twentieth Century, co-editor, Oxford (OUP), 2017

Towards a Poetics of Late Latin Literature, co-editor , Oxford (OUP), 2017

 Comparativism in Art History, editor, New York (Routledge), 2017




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