Piece by Piece: Mosaic Artifacts in Byzantium and the Ancient Americas

Grateful to BSANA for this notice. In brief:


This workshop and museum colloquium will bring together art historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, curators, conservators, and scientists to consider the production, use, and meaning of mosaic artifacts in Byzantium and the ancient Americas.

Across premodern cultures, the mosaic artform enjoyed tremendous prestige. In the medieval Mediterranean, no other pictorial medium could rival mosaic’s opulence and visual splendor or claim to entail the same level of technical expertise. Durable and infinitely reparable, mosaics intimated a sense of both history and timelessness. Similarly, in the ancient Americas, the mosaic medium embodied status, wealth, and authority. A range of socially and ritually significant objects, from weapons and jewelry to figurines, were adorned with exquisitely crafted mosaic inlays, featuring such rich materials as turquoise, lapis lazuli, serpentine, and mother-of-pearl. Tellingly, both Byzantine micromosaic icons and ancient American portable mosaic objects would captivate the imaginations of discerning antiquarians and collectors in early modern Europe. To these later audiences, mosaic epitomized cultures that were, from the European vantage point, geographically and temporally “far away.”

The Dumbarton Oaks Museum has unique holdings of artworks in the mosaic medium, including two Byzantine micromosaic icons (BZ.1947.24 and BZ.1954.2), a Wari mosaic mirror (PC.B.432) and figurine (PC.B.437), and a Maya mosaic mask (PC.B.557). The collection therefore presents a rare resource for reexamining mosaic artifacts from a cross-cultural perspective and exploring new ways of thinking more expansively about the mosaic medium and its histories, both local and global. In addition to this cross-cultural frame, this workshop and colloquium will serve as an opportunity to devote specific attention to Byzantine micromosaic icons, exceptionally rare (only thirty-six are known to survive today), and yet understudied, outstanding works of medieval art. The occasion of this workshop and colloquium offers us a far-reaching opportunity to return to the proverbial square one and reassess everything we think we know about Byzantine micromosaic icons: when they were created, where, how, by whom, for whom, and why.

Event details

The two-day event will consist of three parts: a colloquium, with a series of papers, and two study sessions. The first study session, led by conservators, will present new technical research on the micromosaic icons of the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia and St. John Chrysostom at Dumbarton Oaks, placing the Byzantine objects in dialogue with the Wari and Maya mosaic artifacts, also in the DO collection. The second session, which will be dedicated to Byzantine micromosaic icons specifically, will involve a structured group discussion about the current state of scholarship and imperatives for future research.

The colloquium will be open to the public. The two study sessions will be open to colloquium participants and a small number of selected scholarly guests.


  • Ivan Drpić, Associate Professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania
  • John Lansdowne, Post-Doctoral Fellow and Assistant to the Director for Academic Programs, I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies
  • Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, Curator, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks

Colloquium Speakers

  • Stephanie Caruso, Giorgi Family Foundation Curatorial Fellow at Art Institute of Chicago
  • Manuela De Giorgi, Professore II Fascia (Associato), Università del Salento
  • Davide Domenici, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Università di Bologna
  • Liz James, Professor of History of Art (Art History) University of Sussex
  • Juan Carlos Melendez, Post-Doc, Archéologie des Amériques, Université de Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne
  • Silvia Pedone, Adjunct Professor of Byzantine Art, Università degli Studi della Tuscia, Viterbo
  • Jennifer Stager, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University
  • Maria Yakovleva, Deputy Head of the Department of Scientific Research and Cataloguing, The Central Andrey Rublev Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art, Moscow

Study Session Speakers

  • Stefania Chlouveraki, Conservator, University of West Attica, Athens
  • Stephanie Guidera, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation · National Museum of the American Indian
  • Emily Kaplan, Conservator, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
  • Thomas Lam, Physical Scientist, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI)
  • Dimitrios C. Makris, Conservator, University of West Attica, Athens
  • Edward Vicenzi, Research Scientist, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI)
  • Keats Webb, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI)

Workshop Participants

  • Michele Bacci, Professor of Medieval Art History, Université de Fribourg
  • Susan Bergh, Curator of the Pre-Columbian and Native North American Collections, Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Laura Filloy Nadal, Associate Curator, Ancient American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Nicholas Herman, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Curator at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies and Medieval Studies Librarian, Penn Libraries
  • Juan Antonio Murro, Chief Curator and Curator of Pre-Columbian Art, Dumbarton Oaks
  • Robert Nelson, Professor Emeritus, Yale University

Author: Dr. Bernard Mulholland

Dr. Bernard Mulholland is a Byzantinist, archaeologist, historian and Patristics scholar with a Ph.D. in history (QUB, 2012). Bernard's publications include: Fiction: Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth Quest (2022). https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=NfWkEAAAQBAJ&pli=1 https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445327630 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0B92V9VYF Non-fiction: Bernard Mulholland, The man from MENSA - 1 of 600: Mensa research (2016). https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445329346 https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=gfWkEAAAQBAJ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1535307269 ---, The man from MENSA - 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (2016). https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445329553 https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=j_WkEAAAQBAJ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1535324376 ---, Ratio analysis of financial KPI in the Higher Education sector: a case study (2018). https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445320705 https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YfWkEAAAQBAJ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09MB99NWP ---, Early Byzantine Ireland: a survey of the archaeological evidence (2021). https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445354716 https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=ChilEAAAQBAJ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09MG1YZ8W ---, Navan Fort, Ireland: archaeological and palaeoecological analysis (2021). https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445397300 https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=PhilEAAAQBAJ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09MYXX9GM ---, The Early Byzantine Christian Church (Oxford, 2014). https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-early-byzantine-christian-church/id1023114473 ---, 'Identification of Early Byzantine Constantinopolitan, Syrian, and Roman church plans in the Levant and some possible consequences', Patristic Studies in the twenty-first century: proceedings of an international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies, ed. Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Theodore de Bruyn and Carol Harrison (Turnhout, 2015), 597-633. https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/10.1484/J.BAIEP.5.107536 Mulholland, B. (2021). 'Can archaeology inform the climate change debate?' Academia Letters, Article4385. https://doi.org/10.20935/AL4385

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: