History of Art


Dr Jacopo Gnisci



Jacopo Gnisci

Jacopo Gnisci graduated with a BA from the University of Rome 3 and an MA from UEA. He obtained his PhD from SOAS in 2016 while working there as a Teaching Assistant. He subsequently worked at Dallas Museum of Art and UT Dallas, the University of Hamburg, the Vatican Library, and the University of Oxford as Exhibition Assistant and Research Associate for the Monumental Art of the Christian and Early Islamic East ERC project. In 2019 he was awarded a Getty/ACLS Fellowship and in 2020 he worked as a Curator for the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme within the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the America at the British Museum. Jacopo has been carrying out fieldwork in East Africa for over 10 years.

Contact Details

Office: 203, 20 Gordon Square.

Office hours: on sabbatical in the 2022/23 academic year.

Email: j.gnisci@ucl.ac.uk

Phone: (0)20 7679 7454


Jacopo is a Lecturer in the Art and Visual Cultures of the Global South at UCL, and a Visiting Scholar in Department of Africa, Oceania, and the America at the British Museum. He is currently the co-Principal Investigator the projects Demarginalizing medieval Africa: Images, texts, and identity in early Solomonic Ethiopia (1270-1527) (AHRC Grant Ref. no. AH/V002910/1; DFG Projektnummer 448410109). Formerly, he co-dicrected other projects including Material Migrations: Mamluk Metalwork across Afro-Eurasia (Gerda Henkel Stiftung). Jacopo sits on the editorial board of several journals for medieval and African studies including Gesta,  Aethiopica: International Journal of Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies, and the Rassegna di Studi Etiopici and currently serves as an Associate of the International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA).

Research Themes

Medieval art and architecture of Africa; Ethiopic, Syriac, Armenian, and Copto-Arabic illuminated manuscripts; Ethiopian and Eritrean art; historiography; Oriental Orthodox Christianity.


Research Summary

Jacopo’s research focuses on the history of manuscript illustration, on the art and architecture of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and on the marginalization of African art in Western institutions. He has covered on a range of topics including the interconnections between art and the liturgy, the transmission and reconceptualization of visual culture in medieval manuscripts, and the relationship between text and image. He has moreover published studies on the use, significance, and/or symbolism of icons, metalwork, and ecclesiastical vestments in Ethiopia, and has been the first author to have an article on East Africa published in The Art Bulletin. He has been involved in several exhibitions, including Africa and Byzantium (2023-24) at the Met, Peace, Power and Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa (2020) at the Harn Museum of Art and Languages of God: Sacred Scripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea (2019) at the Bodleian Libraries, which was co-curated with members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora. The latter exhibition was accompanied by the publication of the volume Treasures of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (2019), which he edited.

Research Activities

Jacopo is actively involved in debates about the acquisition and restitution of African art and has contributed to the return of stolen artworks to their country of origin (see for instance here). Additionally, he contributes to several research projects, including the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme, Sacred Ethiopic Texts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: A Catalogue of the Manuscript Collection of Bent Juel-Jensen, and The CaNaMEI Project: Rediscovering Ancient Ethiopian Manuscripts in Italian Libraries. He is currently working on several publications including: A Catalogue of Ethiopia Manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries, An Introduction to Medieval Ethiopic Manuscripts, and The Stolen Crown: A Bridge Between Two Worlds.


Selected Publications 

Teaching and Supervision

Jacopo teaches courses on the late antique and medieval art of African and the Mediterranean world including HART0083 - Empires of Africa: Introduction to African Art & Archaeology and HART0077 - Civilizations of the Book: The Global Middle Ages Through Illustrated Manuscripts. He welcomes expressions of interests from postgraduate students who wish to work on pre-modern illustrated manuscripts or African art. Potential applicants can contact Jacopo directly by email.

Current PhD Students:

Antonia DalivalleThe Grand Detour: James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-1794) and the Reception of Ethiopia in Enlightenment Europe, (second supervisor with Professor Margot Finn, FBA, History Department).