Robert Nelson

Robert Lehman Professor in the History of Art

Robert Nelson, B.A. Rice University, M.A., Ph.D. New York University, faculty member at Yale since 2005: Your scholarship and teaching have illuminated Byzantine art and architecture for students and readers over four decades, making that seemingly distant world shine forth in a fresh new light. Your books and articles on manuscript painting have revealed both the beauty and the intelligence of pictorial design in the realm of liturgical performance. You have investigated the ways images enfold beholders as they move through sacred spaces, teaching that text, image, and architecture are integrally bound together. And you have taught us to understand that great buildings such as the Chora and Hagia Sophia, spectacular visual effects, are richly layered in their reception history and their reuse by new communities over time. 

As the title of the invaluable essay collection you edited suggests, you have always sought to “see as others saw” – to consider not only the material works Byzantine people created but also their distinctive ways of reading, conceptions of sight and other senses, and conditions of viewing. You have understood, too, the very different conditions of modern viewing, through your studies on the formative role of dual slide projection, of photographic reproductive technologies, and of the arrangement of museum vitrines in shaping the art’s histories. You were early to import critical theory from literary studies into the study of Byzantine art, and your work continues to be exemplary in this regard. You have also given us new views of art, in a literal sense, both in the dazzling photographs with which you’ve illustrated your publications and in the unprecedented exhibition of icons from Mount Sinai that you organized at the Getty in 2007.

Your effectiveness as a teacher and adviser is palpable in the many students who flocked to your classroom and office at the University of Chicago and at Yale, and who joined you in your many adventures through Turkey, Greece, Egypt, the Balkans, and so many other places. The firmament of Byzantine studies in North America – and well beyond – glitters with the many stars you’ve placed there, as your students have graduated and attained positions of their own. Your inspiration shines in them. May your example of scholarly rigor, creative thinking, warm collegiality, and good humor continue to shine forth in the many communities you’ve touched at Yale and beyond.