Tom Nickson

Research activity per year

Personal profile


I studied Art History at Cambridge and the Courtauld, and then taught at the University of York before returning to The Courtauld in 2012. I'm interested in all forms of visual and material culture (with a particular focus on architecture) from across Europe and the Mediterranean, especially from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries (albeit with an extra interest in antiquarianism from the 16th to the 19th centuries). Currently my chief areas of interest can be roughly divided into three areas:

1. Most of my research has centred on medieval Iberia, focusing on gothic art and architecture; encounters between Christian, Muslim and Jewish artistic traditions; epigraphy and performance. Several of these strands can be found in my book, Toledo Cathedral: Building Histories in Medieval Castile (Penn State University Press, 2015), an integrated study of what is arguably Spain's most important church, exploring its architecture, urban setting, sculpture, treasury, cults, liturgy, and relations with the Crown. I am now working on a much broader book project, provisionally entitled: Spanish Medieval Architecture: Seven Moments. This will explore architecture across the Iberian Peninsula between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, looking across the regional and religious frontiers that have traditionally defined Spanish scholarship.

2. A relatively new interest centres on the 'experience' of buildings in the Middle Ages. I'm especially fascinated in the way that light and darkness define experience and might be regulated via windows, glass, candles, lamps and so forth. But I'm also interested in the senses more broadly: how did sight interact with smell, sound, touch, taste, and how can these experiences be recovered? I was first interested in this topic in relation to Andalusi mosques, but also thinking about it in the context of English parish churches and French gothic cathedrals and abbeys.

3. I've always been interested in the phenomeonon of relics and pilgrimage, but in anticipation of the anniversary of the death and translation of St Thomas Becket (2020) I've been working on a project to map the dispersal of his relics across Europe after his martyrdom in 1170.

Research interests

  • The spread of Gothic architecture in medieval Europe and technologies of architectural transmission
  • 19th– and 20th-century architectural criticism and revivalism
  • St Thomas Becket, relics and pilgrimage
  • Church furnishings, treasuries, and inventories
  • Epigraphy and orality
  • The reception of Islamic art and architecture in medieval Europe
  • Architecture, light and the senses
  • Antiquarianism in Early Modern Spain and England

Special Awards, Honours & Distinctions

  • Eleanor Turft Prize, 2016, for Toledo Cathedral: Building Histories in Medieval Castile (from the American Society of Art Historical Studies). 
  • Nicholas Hawksmoor Medal, 2005 (from the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain)

Other Ongoing Activities

  • Vice-chair of ARTES
  • Art History, editorial board
  • Associate Dean for Students, Courtauld Institute of Art

PhD Students


  • Costanza Beltrami, ‘Juan Guas (active 1453-1496) and the ‘Hispano-Flemish style’



  • Sophie Dentzer, ‘Decorative Vaults in Fourteenth-Century England’ (2016)
  • Matilde Grimaldi, ‘The Lost Romanesque Cathedral of Tortosa (Catalonia)’ (2016)
  • Maeve O’Donnell-Morales, ‘The Altar in Medieval Castile: A Social and Material History’ (2018)

Education/Academic qualification

'Toledo Cathedral: Art & Belief in Medieval Castile’, The Courtauld Institute of Art

… → 2009

‘The Gothic Cathedral’, The Courtauld Institute of Art

… → 2005

Cambridge University

External positions

University of York



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