Judaism and Christian Art

Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism

Herbert L. Kessler
David Nirenberg
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 456
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    Judaism and Christian Art
    Book Description:

    Christian cultures across the centuries have invoked Judaism in order to debate, represent, and contain the dangers presented by the sensual nature of art. By engaging Judaism, both real and imagined, they explored and expanded the perils and possibilities for Christian representation of the material world.

    The thirteen essays inJudaism and Christian Artreveal that Christian art has always defined itself through the figures of Judaism that it produces. From its beginnings, Christianity confronted a host of questions about visual representation. Should Christians make art, or does attention to the beautiful works of human hands constitute a misplaced emphasis on the things of this world or, worse, a form of idolatry ("Thou shalt make no graven image")? And if art is allowed, upon what styles, motifs, and symbols should it draw? Christian artists, theologians, and philosophers answered these questions and many others by thinking about and representing the relationship of Christianity to Judaism. This volume is the first dedicated to the long history, from the catacombs to colonialism but with special emphasis on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, of the ways in which Christian art deployed cohorts of "Jews"-more figurative than real-in order to conquer, defend, and explore its own territory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0836-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VII-XII)
    (pp. 1-9)
    David Nirenberg

    What does Judaism have to do with Christian art? Until recently, “noting” seemed an unproblematic answer. Indeed, through much of the nineteenth twentieth centuries there were many who would have added that Judaism had nothing to do with arttout court, whether Christian or any other sort. This was of course, the position of many committed antisemites such as the composer Richard Wagner (1813–1883), who famously insisted—in his essay “Jewry in Music” (1850)—that Jews had never, could never, contribute to true art.¹ But plenty of Jews, from the most religious to the most assimilated, would have agreed...

  5. CHAPTER 1 “Pharaoh’s Army Got Drownded”: Some Reflections on Jewish and Roman Genealogies in Early Christian Art
    (pp. 10-44)
    Jaś Elsner

    I open with a song that demonstrates the remarkable longevity of certain uses of imagery and allusion to scripture that are characteristic of Christianity from the early church until the present day.² This song appears, as it opens, to be about the Hebrews’ liberation from Egyptian tyranny in the miraculous actions of Moses at the Red Sea shore. As soon as it reaches the chorus, this spiritual slides from a Jewish to a Christian thematics and instantly revises the Jewish narrative as a type or figure for a triumphant Christian story. That Christianity is explicitly affirmed in the second verse...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Unfeigned Witness: Jews, Matter, and Vision in Twelfth-Century Christian Art
    (pp. 45-73)
    Sara Lipton

    When around the year 1120 the Benedictine monk Rupert of Deutz rewrote theVitaof his abbey’s sainted founder, Archbishop Heribert of Cologne (d. 1021), he added a novel and curious detail.¹ The miraculous heavenly light that accompanied the birth of the future saint was no longer seen solely by the Christian mother and midwives, as in the original text, but was now also witnessed by a Jew.² Moreover, according to Rupert, this Jew enjoyed the privilege of being the first to voice the meaning of the blessed vision, telling the boy’s father: “Surely [by this light] you may know...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Shaded with Dust: Jewish Eyes on Christian Art
    (pp. 74-114)
    Herbert L. Kessler

    The wide range of people, subjects, and monuments considered in this volume reflect myriad ways in which diverse Christian cultures used Jews and Judaism to construct their own claims about the material and sensual world. Many of the themes treated by the various authors were already fully realized in the art and discussions about art during the Middle Ages; therefore, it seems useful to consider the subject under several broad rubrics: the perceived tension during the Middle Ages between material instruments and Jewish and Christian spirituality, the claim that Christianity had replaced Jewish law and the related assertion that material...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Iudeus sacer: Life, Law, and Identity in the “State of Exception” Called “Marian Miracle”
    (pp. 115-142)
    Francisco Prado-Vilar

    In 1276, while traveling with his court in Northern Spain, King Alfonso X of Castile and León fell gravely ill in the city of Vitoria. For the past few years, he had been suffering from a chronic disease that subjected him to recurrent periods of intense pain and to a progressive physical deterioration. To add to his grief, the most recent bouts of the illness had come in the midst of a series of personal and political setbacks: the deaths of his eldest son and his youngest daughter, the invasion of the newly conquered territories of Southern Spain by North...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Abraham Circumcises Himself: A Scene at the Endgame of Jewish Utility to Christian Art
    (pp. 143-182)
    Marcia Kupfer

    If one were to schematize the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the form of an Abelardian exercise inSic et Non, the following two perspectives might be set in contention. On the one hand, it can be said that Christianity succeeded by virtue of orchestrating a hostile takeover of its parent religion. To quote Susannah Heschel:

    In the domain of religion, Christianity colonized Judaism theologically, taking over its central theological concepts of the Messiah, eschatology, apocalypticism, election, and Israel, as well as its scriptures, its prophets, and even its God, and denying the continued validity of those ideas...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Frau Venus, the Eucharist, and the Jews of Landshut
    (pp. 183-202)
    Achim Timmermann

    In an article published a number of years ago in the journalGesta, I examined the image of the Living Cross, without doubt one of the most violent anti-Jewish Crucifixion allegories of the later Middle Ages.¹ In most of the forty or so surviving examples, as at St. Francis at Poniky in Slovakia (Figure 6.1),² four hands, gesturing or holding objects, grow from the arms of the cross to which Christ has been nailed. The hands at the top and bottom of the vertical stem unlock the gate of heaven and obliterate hell or Purgatory, respectively, while the horizontal crossbar...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Jewish Carnality, Christian Guilt, and Eucharistic Peril in the Rotterdam-Berlin Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament
    (pp. 203-232)
    Mitchell B. Merback

    Like those powerhouses of Christian iconography, the Crucifixion of Christ and the Last Judgment, the biblical scene known as both the Lord’s Supper (Coena domini) and the Last Supper has stood for centuries as a veritable emblem of Christianity’s self-understanding. Even more than the sacrifice on Golgotha or the apocalyptic tribunal in heaven, the scene of bread-offering and blessing in the “upper room” (cenaculum) in Jerusalem, where Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover (Matt. 26:20–30; Mark 14:18–26; Luke 22:14–33; John 12–13), has signified universal Christian fellowship, community, and the sacerdotal claims of the institutional church....

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Ghetto and the Gaze in Early Modern Venice
    (pp. 233-262)
    Dana E. Katz

    In “A Scene from the Venice Ghetto,” the twentieth-century poet Rainer Maria Rilke vividly describes the architectonics of Jewish life in Venice: “[The Venetians] reduced the area of the Ghetto . . ., so that its [Jewish] families . . . were forced to build their houses in the vertical dimension, one on the roof of another. And their city, which did not lie on the sea, grew slowly into the space of heaven as though it were another sea; and all around the square where the well was, buildings rose in dizzy perpendicularity like the walls of some giant’s...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Through a Glass Darkly: Paths to Salvation in Spanish Painting at the Outset of the Inquisition
    (pp. 263-290)
    Felipe Pereda

    According to the chronicles, when the court arrived at Seville in the summer of 1478, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile were extremely disappointed to find that the local community ofconversos(many of whom had been baptized after the antisemitic riots of mid-century) had no shame in exhibiting their unbroken fidelity to the Mosaic religion they were supposed to have abandoned. As a result, the monarchs decided to organize an evangelizing crusade that is usually considered to be an essential episode in the genesis of the modern Inquisition, and whose first tribunal began to function in...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Renaissance Naturalism and the Jewish Bible: Ferrara, Brescia, Bergamo, 1520–1540
    (pp. 291-327)
    Stephen J. Campbell

    The confrontation of Synagoga and Ecclesia, a theme recurrent in Northern European art from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, makes a rare and belated Italian appearance in Ferrara in 1523: Garofalo’s colossalAllegory of the Old and the New Testaments, painted for the refectory of the Augustinian Hermits at S. Andrea, Ferrara, is perhaps the most extreme and forthright statement of Christian anti-Judaism to be produced in Italy, and not least because of its scale and its considerable celebrity (Figure 10.1).¹ Vasari, who somewhat disingenuously described it as “many figures . . . bringing the Old Testament into accord...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Poussin’s Useless Treasures
    (pp. 328-358)
    Richard Neer

    In the spring of 1647, Nicolas Poussin was hard at work on a set of seven pictures illustrating the holy sacraments of the Catholic church. He had already completed one full set for his chief supporter in Rome, the antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo. But then his French patron, Paul Fréart de Chantelou, had jealously demanded copies for himself—and Poussin had adroitly parlayed the request into an entirely new commission: not mere copies of the dal Pozzo series, but seven original paintings.¹ This second set ofSacramentswould turn out to be the capstone of his career. Yet the work...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Eugène Delacroix’s Jewish Wedding and the Medium of Painting
    (pp. 359-386)
    Ralph Ubl

    The white wall in the center of Eugène Delacroix’sA Jewish Wedding in Morocco(Figure 12.1) has always struck me as a color field announcing what modernist painting would be. Emerging from an exuberant surrounding of purple, green, red, and orange, it addresses us as forcefully as a figure or a gaze, although it is neither. The critical engagement with modernism has produced a set of categories, such as opticality, thickness, and facingness, which could be implemented to analyze this effect.¹ In proceeding this way, one would be continuing a tradition initiated by writers such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Signac,...

  17. CHAPTER 13 The Judaism of Christian Art
    (pp. 387-428)
    David Nirenberg

    Beauty, Aristotle tells us in hisPoetics, consists in amplitude as well as in order. A very small creature, no matter how harmoniously arranged, cannot be beautiful, since our view loses all distinctness, and an enormously ample one cannot be beautiful either, since we lose the sense of its unity and wholeness. Could we perceive the beauty of an animal a thousand miles long? Likewise, a plot must have extension, but no more than can easily be remembered. And yet my subject—Christian anxieties about art and their expression in terms of Judaism—is indeed “an animal a thousand miles...

  18. List of Contributors
    (pp. 429-430)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 431-442)
    (pp. 443-443)