Episode 134 – Angel, Lion, Ox, Eagle

Virtual Memories Show #134:
Warren Woodfin – Angel, Lion, Ox, Eagle

“From my youth, I knew I wanted to be a medievalist of some sort or another. Byzantium was always lurking off to the side, and I thought, ‘There has to be something there.'”

BenakiMuseumWarren Woodfin joins the show to talk about guest curating Liturgical Textiles of the Post-Byzantine World installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (running through Nov. 1 2015). We talk about how he became a medieval art historian, the great tragedy of his high school years (it involves a Byzantine fresco at the Menil Collection artwork in Houston), what it’s like working on a Ukrainian burial mound and dealing with Soviet methods of archeological excavation, the secret fear of every Ph.D. candidate, and more! Give it a listen!

“It was the beauty of Byzantine art that got me first, and then wanting to understand where this beauty came from.”

We also talk about why art history gets a bum rap from the STEM proponents, the problem with centuries-old textile samples turning terminally brown, why Queens is the most Hellenic of the five boroughs, how new technologies have affected his work, the schisms that exist in the field, how he used to lay out “improved” versions of medieval monuments as a kid, and what the benefits of an art history education really are.

“I’m afraid that we’re embracing the view that those who can afford to pay for a quality education can major in liberal arts, while those whose educations are supported by the public should be limited to studying things we deem to be for the good of society.”


We mention a few books in this episode. Here’s they are:

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About our Guest

Dr. Warren Woodfin‘s research focuses on the art and archaeology of Byzantium and its cultural sphere in the 11th through 15th centuries. Since 2006, he has been collaborating with a research team of U.S.- and Ukraine-based scholars to study a medieval burial complex in the Black Sea steppe. The site, called the Chungul Kurgan, yielded a trove of medieval textiles, precious metalwork, and other artifacts interred with a nomadic leader of the thirteenth century. His recent article on the textiles from the burial (co-authored with Renata Holod and Yuriy Rassamakin) appeared in Ars Orientalis 38 (2010); a further article on a silver cup from the burial will appear in The Art Bulletin in 2016.

Warren has also published articles in the journals Gesta and Dumbarton Oaks Papers, and has contributed essays to various edited volumes. He is also the co-editor (with Mateusz Kapustka) of Clothing the Sacred: Medieval Textiles as Fabric, Form and Metaphor (Berlin: Edition Imorde, 2015). His book on Byzantine textiles and their role in ritual and hierarchy, The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

Prior to joining the faculty at Queens College as Kallinikeion Assistant Professor of Byzantine Studies, Warren held teaching and research posts at Duke, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the Metropolitan Museum, and, most recently, a European Research Council-sponsored fellowship at the University of Zurich. In the spring semester of 2016, he will be a resident Fellow at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Woodfin’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Upper pic: Stephanos Tzangarolas (Greek, active 1688–1710). Lateral sanctuary door with Saint James the Brother of the Lord, 1688. From the Church of the Holy Trinity on Corfu. 2.03 x .81 m. Benaki Museum, Athens. Photo of Prof. Woodfin by me.

Podcast: Critical Mass

Frank Wilson on books!

Virtual Memories Show: Frank Wilson – Critical Mass

“We were taught with the idea that these books meant something, that it was something vital to your life, that if you read these books you could understand what was going on around you better than you could if you didn’t. I don’t know if anyone’s doing that now.”

Time to wrap up our August book critics miniseries! Following our conversations with Michael Dirda and Jessa Crispin, we have Frank Wilson, who’s been reviewing books for FIFTY YEARS. Frank, who launched the Books, Inq. blog in 2005, talks about the changes in book culture over that half-century, the marvel of Tolstoy, his picks for most underrated and most overrated authors, the perils of using big-name writers as book reviewers, and more!

“I think that blogging has wiped out the book reviewing business but it does wonders for the literary business.”

We also talk about his life as a Catholic Taoist, the similarities of poetry and religion, whether Catholics can write good novels, the biggest gap in his literary background, when it’s okay to break the rules of Haiku (and other forms), and why he thinks Willa Cather is truly the Great American Novelist!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Frank Wilson is celebrating his 50th year of book reviewing. His reviews have appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines, but mainly the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he served as book editor until 2008. In 2005, he launched Books, Inq.: The Epilogue, a blog about books and publishing. He has an entertaining bio over here.

Credits: This episode’s music is Sinner’s Prayer by Ray Charles (see, because of Frank’s Catholicism and belief in the fallenness of — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Wilson’s home in Philadelphia on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were also recorded on that equipment, in a room at the Courtyard Marriott in Creve Coeur, MO. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Wilson by me.