Scholar Presents New Findings on Ancient Religious Icons

A noted art history scholar will present his groundbreaking findings on the origins of religious icons in a free lecture Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Roger Hull Lecture Hall at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University.

"Icons in Antiquity: The Symphony of the Gods" will feature Thomas Mathews, emeritus art history professor from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. The event is the first in a new annual series called the Lane C. McGaughy Lectureship in Ancient Studies, established by the Willamette University Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (CASA).

Thomas Mathews is leading an interdisciplinary project that has uncovered fresh evidence of the icon phenomenon from Egypt in Roman times. Icons, which are panel paintings of sacred subjects, are the most characteristic genre of art of Orthodox Christianity, and currently accepted theories trace their origin to the Roman cult of the imperial image or to the use of funeral portraits. Mathews' project team is studying panel paintings of the 1st-3rd centuries that bear strong resemblances to the Christian icons that followed them, constituting an important bridge between "pagan" antiquity and Christianity.

Mathews, who holds degrees in classics, philosophy, theology and art history, has devoted himself to the interpretation of religious art of the early Christian and East Christian worlds. He is the author of 13 books and many scholarly articles, and his research has been supported by numerous prestigious grants and fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The event is co-sponsored by CASA and the Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh Lectureship Fund of the department of art and art history. The Lane C. McGaughy Lectureship in Ancient Studies honors the George H. Atkinson professor of religious and ethical studies emeritus who founded Willamette's classical studies program and is a founding member of the Salem Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Northwest House of Theological Studies.

For more information, call (503) 370-6250 or visit