Warren Woodfin

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20042005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams

Warren Woodfin

Art History

Constructing the Heavenly Jerusalem: Dreams, Visions, and the Transformation of Heaven in Byzantine Art

Dr. Woodfin’s recent work on liturgical textiles in the late Byzantine period has brought into sharper focus an entire range of images in a variety of media that make symbolic realities visible to the eye. Certain frescoes of this period, for instance, present Christ attired in liturgical vestments as a Eucharistic celebrant, accompanied by angels attired as deacons. Some of these images were inspired by visions that addressed contemporary theological controversies, such as depictions of the vision of St. Peter of Alexandria, in which Christ appeared on the altar as a small child. Others are less easily explained by direct correlation to contemporary events.


Dr. Woodfin examines the role of dreams and visions in the gradual introduction and multiplication of images of liturgical realism in Byzantine art. Moving from his earlier research on the textual tradition of Byzantine commentaries on the Eucharistic liturgy, he looks closely at other textual sources, hagiography in particular, for narratives that corroborate or contradict the artistic emphasis on making the hidden symbolism of the rite visible. Insights gained from the study of liturgical dress are applied to the question of the relation between these visions of the unseen world and the lived experience of Byzantine women and men.