Professor Beth Williamson

B.A.(Oxon.), M.A., Ph.D.(Lond.)

  • BS8 1TB

Personal profile

Research interests

Beth Williamson's current research interests include medieval religious and devotional practice, especially in relation to visual and aural culture. She concentrates particularly on the forms and functions of religious imagery, the relationships between liturgy, devotion, and visual culture, materials and materiality, and on sensory and bodily experience. The primary geographical areas on which she has focussed are Italy, Northern France and the Netherlands, and England. Particular research at the moment involves aspects of religious devotion in medieval England in the late medieval period, including the ways in which devotional practice intersects with the concepts of time and space, sight and sound, and distance and difficulty. From September 2020 Prof. Williamson will be engaged in a three-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship focussing on this material, working towards a book entitled Describing Devotion.



Office 2.30, top floor, 9 Woodland Road, 0117 954 6047,  [email protected]

Career and Training

Beth Williamson studied at Merton College, Oxford (History), and then at the Courtauld Institute in London  (MA, History of Art; PhD, History of Art). Before joining the University of Bristol in 1998 she taught at a number of institutions, including the Courtauld Institute, University College, London, and the University of East Anglia.


Selected publications

Recent and forthcoming monographs and articles have focussed on Italian visual culture: The Madonna of Humility: development, dissemination and reception (2009) explores the iconography and development of the image of the Virgin seated on the ground, the assimilation and translation of the image between different cultural milieux, and its function and reception. Reliquary Tabernacles in Late Medieval Italy: Image, Relic, and Material Culture (2020) is a study of a group of tabernacles from fourteenth-century Italy which combined images and relics in a novel way, with a variety of media and materials working together to create a new type of devotional image.

Other publications (including an article 'Sensory Experience in Medieval Devotion: Sound and Vision, Invisibility and Silence'), have explored issues around interiority, and materiality and immateriality of images, visibility and invisibility, audible and inaudible music.


Research Supervision

Beth Williamson is interested in supervising students undertaking research in any of the areas listed above, and in later medieval art and architecture more generally. Currently she supervises students working particularly on the relationships between visual and aural culture.



Prof. Williamson teaches across the full range of BA, MA and postgraduate research programmes. She teaches specialist units on religious visual culture, often including materials and methodologies from musicology and sound studies. Special units include: 'Early Italian Art', 'Northern Renaissance Art', and 'Spectacle and Ceremony'. More general medieval teaching includes: 'Introduction to Medieval Art' and 'Art at the Courts of Europe'. She also contributes to 'Histories and Theories of Art', 'Research Issues in Art History', and 'Histories, Theories and Critical Interpretations of Art'. 

Prof. Williamson also teaches on various widening participation and access courses, including Access to Bristol and the Bristol Foundation Year in Arts and Humanities.


External Engagement

Prof. Williamson has a history of public engagement and partnership work. Recently she served as the first Faculty of Arts Partnerships Fellow, charged with promoting research partnerships between external organisations in the city and region and individuals and research groups in the Faculty of Arts. She has experience of co-produced research, in partnership with Bristol Cathedral, a relationship that recently led to a formal Memorandum of Understanding between the Cathedral and the University of Bristol.

Prof. Williamson's interests in visual and material culture have shaped much of her committee work and board experience both inside and outside academia. She chairs the University of Bristol's Public Art Advisory Panel, and sits on the University’s Heritage and Public Art Committee. She is Chair of the Bristol Cathedral Fabric Advisory Committee, in which capacity she leads the expert group offering advice to the Dean and Chapter on all aspects of building upkeep and development. She is also a member of Westminster Abbey Fabric Commission, which carries out similar functions to the Bristol Fabric Advisory Committee. International engagements include membership of the Council (Board of Trustees) of the British School at Rome, with responsibilities including leading on diversifying the Board. She has previously served as an International Associate to the Board of the International Center of Medieval Art in New York. 

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Centre for Medieval Studies


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