Personal profile

Academic Background

B.A. Greek and Latin language and literature; Swarthmore College (1966)


John Mitchell is an art historian with focuses of research have been in a series of major archaeological projects in Italy and Albania. His particular interests are in the architecture, art and visual culture of the late Roman and early medieval periods. His work spans the Mediterranean and northern Europe, with particular interests in Italy, the Balkans and the central Mediterranean in the late Roman period, and the British Isles, continental Europe and Italy in the early Middle Ages. He is particularly concerned with the social uses of the visual arts and with cultural and artistic outreach and interrelations both within and outside this Mediterranean and transalpine world.     John has recently published a book on San Vincenzo al Volturno, one of the great monasteries of early medieval Europe; is currently working on the mosaic pavements, art and craft production at at Butrint, a Roman and early medieval coastal city in southern Albania, found during recent archaelogical excavations; and is working on a book on the cultural dynamics of Europe in the early Middle Ages: Out of the Dark Ages: Art and State-Formation in post-Roman Europe (Duckworth), which re-evaluates the cultural dynamics of Europe in the immediately post-Roman period.   


John joined the School in 1975, after training in the Department of Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library Oxford (1966-7), postgraduate study in the History of Art at the University of Vienna (1968) and Harvard University (1968-72), research at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome (1972-3), and a year as a Leverhulme Fellow in the History of Art at Jesus College, Cambridge (1973-4). During 1989-90 he was Visiting Professor in Medieval Art at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome. Currently he is Professor of the History of Art at UEA.

Key Research Interests

The social and personal uses of art

Ways of seeing in the first millennium

Practice, idea and invention in the arts and architectures of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages between the Atlantic and the Tigris.

Current Research Projects

John is working on a book on the cultural dynamics of Europe in the early Middle Ages: Out of the Dark Ages: Art and State-Formation in post-Roman Europe (Duckworth). The aim of this book is to re-evaluate the cultural dynamics of Europe in the immediately post-Roman period, on the one hand setting Italy at the heart of the phenomenon of the cultural promotion of state-formation and on the other identifying and analyzing some of the most significant architectural, artistic and material outcomes of the complex and varied movements of people, ideas and patterns between regions and places, around Europe, over the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

He is also working towards a number of other books, both outcomes of a major fieldwork project of archaeological excavation and survey at the early medieval monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno in southern Italy, in the 1980s and 1990s.One is an analysis of the painted decoration of the so-called crypt of Abbot Epyphanius, one of the most complex and probably the most complete and best preserved programme of wall-paintings to survive from anywhere in western Europe in the early Middle Ages. A second is a summative study of the monastery of San Vincenzo, co-authored with the archaeologist Richard Hodges, which will offer a new analysis of the many-phased layout, architecture and art of the monastery and consider its position and role in the social, cultural and political history of early medieval Italy and Europe. A third is a projected collaborative analytical study of the Umayyad desert place at Qusayr Amra, focusing on the pictorial programme in the audience chamber and the adjoining thermal chambers, one of the most extensive and also one of the most enigmatic painted ensembles to survive in the Mediterranean theatre, from the first millennium.

Another ongoing project involves the description and analysis of the art-historical and artifactual aspects of major campaigns of archaeological excavation, 1994-present, at the Roman, late antique and early medieval coastal city of Butrint in southern Albania.

Forthcoming publications:

Out of the Dark Ages: Art and State Formation in Post-Roman Europe, Duckworth: London

Key Responsibilities

Convenor World Art Research Seminar

Course Director V350 BA History of Art

Director Postgraduate Diploma Programmes

Director MA History of Art

Appeals Officer

Alumni Officer

Areas of Expertise

Art in Europe and the Mediterranean between late Antiquity and 1050, esp. early Medieval Italy, the Langobards, Papal Rome, the Carolingian realm and Anglo-Saxon England.

Teaching Interests

Roman and late Roman art and architecture

The Mediterranean in the early Christian period

The architecture and arts of early Islam

The arts and architecture of early medieval Europe, and the Mediterranean hinterland, east and west

The arts of the British Isles in the early Middle Ages

Research supervision

John is interested in supervising research students in all areas of late antique and early medieval art and architecture in the European and wider Mediterranean theatre.

Recent and current PhD dissertations supervised include:

Representations of Architecture in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (current)
The mosaic pavements at Qasr el-Labia, Cyenaica (current).
The early Christian basilicas of Cyprus: some sources and contexts.
Seeing Red: Trade and Uses of Shanhu - Red Coral - in Qing China, 1644-1795
Caravaggio: a neuro-art-history of engagement
Building and experience in Italy in the first millennium
Palace and hall in the Mediterranean basin between antiquity and the early Middle Ages

Teaching Activities

Examples of Modules Taught:

Undergraduate Modules:

Image, icon and identity: themes in Roman and late antique art

Early Islam: types, dynamics and diffusion. 

The arts of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons 600-850

The arts of the book and the display of literacy in the first millennium

Art and architecture in Venice

Masters Modules:

The monastic tradition: art and architecture 650-1000

The uses of the visual from the Roman empire to early Islam

Mary Mother of God - cult and images - East and West

City, church and empire: Christian Rome and the arts in the first millennium