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Bissera Pentcheva

Bissera Pentcheva

Professor of Classics by courtesy
Art History
Ph.D. Harvard University
B.A. Dartmouth College


Pentcheva on the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque:

Bissera V. Pentcheva's innovative work in acoustics, art, and music has redefined the field of Byzantine architecture. She has published three books with Pennsylvania State University Press: Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium, 2006 (received the Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America, 2010), The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium, 2010, and Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space and Spirit in Byzantium, 2017 (received the 2018 American Academy of Religion Award in excellence in historical studies).

She has edited two volumes: Aural Architecture in Byzantium: Music, Acoustics, and Ritual, Ashgate 2018 and Icons of Sound: Architecture, Music and Imagination in Medieval Art, Routledge, 2020. Her work is informed by phenomenology, placing the attention on the changing appearance of objects and architectural spaces. She relies on film to capture this temporal animation stirred by candlelight. Another important strand of her work engages the sonic envelope of the visual--music and acoustics--and employs auralizations that digitally imprint the performance of chant with the acoustic signature of the specific interior for which it was composed. Her current book project explores animation in Western Medieval Art.

For her book, Hagia Sophia: Sound Space and Spirit in Byzantium, check the following podcasts and websites:

For over a decade, Bissera Pentcheva as co-drected with Jonathan Abel (CCRMA) the interdisciplinary project "Icons of Sound," you can read more about it on the follwing website:

Pentcheva has organized and led the Onassis Seminar  Aural Architecture: Music, Acoustics, and Ritual in Byzantium (, 2013-2014.

She also ran the interdisciplinary the Geballe workshop on sound studies at Stanford,  The Material Imagination: Sound, Space, and Human Consciousness (, 2013-2017.


Pentcheva's research has been supported by a number of prestigious fellowships:  Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2018-2019), J. S. Guggenheim (2017-2018), American Academy in Rome (2017-2018), Mellon New Directions (2010-2012), Humboldt (2006-2009) and a Dumbarton Oaks Junior Fellowship (2000-2001).


Selected Articles:

“Performative Images and Cosmic Sound in the Exultet Liturgy of Southern Italy,” Speculum 95/2 (2020).

“Optical and Acoustic Aura in Medieval Art: The Golden Retable of the Pentecost at Stavelot,”Material Religion16/1 (2020): 1–30,

with Jonathan Abel, Icons of Sound: Auralizing the Lost Voice of Hagia Sophia, Speculum 92/S1 (2017)online publication,

“Glittering Eyes: Animation in the Byzantine Eikōn and the Western Imago,” Codex Aqvilarensis 32 (2016): 209–26.

“Performing the Sacred in Byzantium: Image, Breath, and Sound,” PRI Performance Research International 19/3 (2014): 120–28.

“Hagia Sophia and Multisensory Aesthetics,” Gesta 50/2 (2011): 93–111.

Moving Eyes: Surface and Shadow in the Byzantine Mixed-Media Relief Icon, Res. Anthropology and Aesthetics 53 (2009): 223-34.

“The Performative Icon, The Art Bulletin 88/4 (2006): 631-55.







October 26, 2018

Free and open to the public

Q&A with the filmmakers to follow

Oshman Hall, McMurtry Building
October 6, 2014

Free and open to the public

Cummings Art Building, Room 103 435 Lasuen Mall, Stanford

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