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Bissera Pentcheva

Bissera Pentcheva

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


Bissera V. Pentcheva's innovative work on acoustics, art, and music has redefined the field of Byzantine architecture and is  now expanding into Western medieval art. Her new research explores the visions of Ste. Foy at Conques developed in the interactions acorss art, music, poetry, and dance. The project is funded by Stanford's Cultivating the Humanities Grant,

Pentcheva 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, Routledge 2020. Her work is informed by anthropology, music, and 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 the art and music of Ste. Foy at Conques. 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): 396466,

“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.


Newspaper Articles, Radio, Podcasts, and Zoom Interviews

New York Times, July 30, 2020


Listen: The Sound Of The Hagia Sophia, More Than 500 Years Ago, February 20, 2020


California Sounds: New Year’s Music That Has not Been Heard in 500 Years, January 1, 2020

Kathimerini, April 13, 2020

Kathimerini July 17, 2020

Kathimerini, July, 21, 2020

American Academy of Religion, podcast, November 7, 2019

Asia House. Arts in Isolation Podcast, June 2020

Byzantium and Friends, podcast on Pentcheva’s book, Hagia Sophia, October 24, 2019

Women Scholars in Orthodoxy, podcast, August 17,  2020


“Hagia Sophia” zoom presentations at:

Dumbarton Oaks, April 1, 2021:

Dumbarton Oaks,

Cornell University,, at 56:40 min

Stanford University,, at 34:25 min.

International Center for World Heritage Interpretation and Presentation, April 2021,


Icons of Sound, 2008-present, interdisciplinary project co-directed with Jonathan Abel, CCRMA


Film on the Icon of the Archangel at San Marco, Venice


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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