Cynthia Hahn

Headshot of Cynthia Hahn

Research Interests

  • Medieval Art


  • PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 1982
Cynthia Hahn book covers

Cynthia Hahn teaches both early and late medieval art at Hunter College and The Graduate Center. Her courses focus on issues of production and meaning for both medieval and contemporary makers and audiences, with special attention to issues such as visuality and materiality.

She has published on material from the early Christian period to the Gothic, from across Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean. Her work has appeared in Art History, Art Bulletin, Gesta, Speculum, and many other journals and collections. Her books include Portrayed on the Heart: Narrative Effect in Pictorial Lives of the Saints from the Tenth through the Thirteenth Century, University of California Press, 2001, Strange Beauty: Origins and Issues in the Making of Medieval Reliquaries 400-circa 1204, Penn State University Press, 2012, The Reliquary Effect: Enshrining the Sacred Object, Reaktion Press, London, 2017 and “The Thing of Mine I have Loved the Best:” Significant Jewels, (Exhibition catalog, Les Enluminures, New York), 2018. With Holger Klein she edited Saints and Sacred Matter: The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard Univ Press, 2015. She has served on the boards of the ICMA, CASVA, and CAA online reviews, where she has also been an editor.

Hahn earned her PhD from the Johns Hopkins University and her MA from the University of Chicago. She previously taught at Florida State University where she was Gulnar K. Bosch professor of Art History, as well serving as visiting Professsor at the University of Chicago, the University of Delaware and the University of Michigan.

She is best known for her work on reliquaries which began with the article: “The Voices of the Saints, What Do Speaking Reliquaries Say?” Gesta, 36, 1997, and has grown into an examination of the societal, historical, and art historical issues surrounding relics and reliquaries. The work has been supported by residences at the Institute for Advanced Study, the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, and CASVA. In line with these interests, she  participated in the planning of the major exhibition  “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in the Middle Ages” that had venues in Cleveland, Baltimore, and London, contributing an essay for the catalog.  During the run of the show, Hunter staged its own show in which medieval reliquaries were put in dialogue with contemporary art: Objects of Devotion and Desire: Medieval Relic to Contemporary Art.  The show was curated by Hahn and a group of M.A., Ph.D., and MFA. students.

Three publications have appeared in the last year:  A short book on Passion Relics from University of California Press; Seeking Transparency, an edited volume on rock crystal from Gebr.Mann Verlag in Berlin; and Heart’s Desire: The Darnley Jewel, the National Gallery of Scotland Gordon Watson lecture. She will be at the Clark Fellow next Fall.

Books and Articles:

  • Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400-circa 1204. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2013.
  • "Visuality" A Companion to Medieval Art (Blackwell Historiography of Medieval Art), ed. Conrad Rudolph, Blackwell, 2006, 45-64.
  • Portrayed on the Heart: Narrative Effect in Pictorial Lives of the Saints from the Tenth through the Thirteenth Century. University of California Press, 2001.
  • "Visio Dei: Changes in Medieval Visuality" Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance: Seeing as Others Saw, Cambridge Studies in New Art History and Criticism, ed. Robert Nelson, Cambridge University Press, 2000, 169-196.
  • "Narrative on the Golden Altar of Sant' Ambrogio: Presentation and Reception" Dumbarton Oaks Papers 53, 1999, 167-187.
  • "Seeing and Believing: The Construction of Sanctity in Early-Medieval Saints’ Shrines" Speculum, 72, 1997, 1079-1106.