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Cultural Exchange: Jews, Christians, and Art in the Medieval Marketplace

Joseph Shatzmiller
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Exchange
    Book Description:

    Demonstrating that similarities between Jewish and Christian art in the Middle Ages were more than coincidental, Cultural Exchange meticulously combines a wide range of sources to show how Jews and Christians exchanged artistic and material culture. Joseph Shatzmiller focuses on communities in northern Europe, Iberia, and other Mediterranean societies where Jews and Christians coexisted for centuries, and he synthesizes the most current research to describe the daily encounters that enabled both societies to appreciate common artistic values.

    Detailing the transmission of cultural sensibilities in the medieval money market and the world of Jewish money lenders, this book examines objects pawned by peasants and humble citizens, sacred relics exchanged by the clergy as security for loans, and aesthetic goods given up by the Christian well-to-do who required financial assistance. The work also explores frescoes and decorations likely painted by non-Jews in medieval and early modern Jewish homes located in Germanic lands, and the ways in which Jews hired Christian artists and craftsmen to decorate Hebrew prayer books and create liturgical objects. Conversely, Christians frequently hired Jewish craftsmen to produce liturgical objects used in Christian churches.

    With rich archival documentation, Cultural Exchange sheds light on the social and economic history of the creation of Jewish and Christian art, and expands the general understanding of cultural exchange in brand-new ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4609-2
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-4)

    This book is about the cultural exchange between Jews and Christians in the High and Late Middle Ages (c. 1230–1450 CE). Members of each group contributed to the other’s culture, even to their religious practices. The Christian protagonists appear more frequently in most chapters, but Jews, too, are handsomely represented. My interest in these people and their endeavors was raised while I was working on the history of the West European marketplace and its financial services. Moneylenders, Jews and non-Jews, could not always count on notarized contracts to secure the loans they were extending, and required tangible objects as...

  6. PART ONE Pawnbrokers:: Agents of Cultural Transmission

      (pp. 7-21)

      The museologist Mordechai Narkiss has rightly pointed out that the business of pawnbroking constituted one of the most important avenues through which Christian artistic achievements found their way into the Jewish society. Yet he said nothing about the marketplace itself and its dynamics. Therefore, before getting into a detailed discussion of his thesis it is necessary to survey, in broad strokes, a picture of the social and economic conditions that prevailed in the medieval West in the High and Late Middle Ages. We must start by mentioning that during the last centuries of classical antiquity and those of the Early...

    • Chapter Two SECURITY FOR LOANS: Church Liturgical Objects
      (pp. 22-44)

      The emerging credit economy in the High Middle Ages required solid assurance and at times collaterals of great value. Church property comes immediately to mind, since most artistic creativity was commissioned by ecclesiastics and religious institutions, right up to the High Renaissance period and even beyond. In many cases Jewish and Christian financiers about to strike a deal would look at sacred objects and assess their value before reaching an agreement. Needless to say, ire and unhappiness occurred in both camps, but the necessities of life had the upper hand, and protesting voices were calmed.

      Books in manuscript form often...

    • Chapter Three HIGH FINANCE: Urban and Princely Pledges
      (pp. 45-58)

      Monks and priests, monasteries and cathedrals were not the only ones to turn to Jews when in need of credit. Citizens of the flourishing urban centers, even the well off, found themselves in a similar quandary. The same was the case for members of the elite social circles, including nobles, counts, and even royalty. The findings relating to the activity of some of the very affluent Jewish businessmen and women, which will be presented in this chapter, expose extraordinary pledges. Dealing with princes and prelates, Jews were exposed to magnificent works of art.

      The radiant Mediterranean metropolis of Marseille offers...

  7. PART TWO Human Imagery in Medieval Ashkenaz

      (pp. 61-72)

      It would seem that some highly successful Jewish financiers were not content with just admiring the achievements of the host society; they allowed themselves to be influenced in their way of life by these achievements. A discovery made in an apartment of approximately seventy-five square meters in the center of the city of Zurich in 1996 calls our attention to this aspect of social interaction. The building where this apartment is situated is known as Zum Brunnenhof, and its present-day address is Brunnengasse No. 8. The apartment was occupied by a Jewish family during the two decades preceding the Black...

    • Chapter Five GERMAN JEWS AND FIGURATIVE ART: Appreciation and Reservation
      (pp. 73-110)

      The Jews of the High and Late Middle Ages were not the first of their people to enjoy art or to create works of lavish craftsmanship. Previous generations of Jews had similar experiences.¹ To describe them all as belonging to a nation without art is a gross misrepresentation that certainly does not reflect historical reality. One has just to open the Bible to become aware of the commitment to aesthetics and to the beautiful that these ancient writings witness. The creation of the Holy Tabernacle in the desert, the building of God’s temple and the royal palace, with its wonderful...

  8. PART THREE At the Marketplace:: Professionals in the Service of the “Other”

      (pp. 113-140)

      Cursory remarks in the previous chapters have already suggested that the artists who produced zoocephalic panels on Hebrew manuscripts were not necessarily Jewish. Rather, there is evidence that Christian artists contributed greatly to the creation of the corpus of decorated medieval Jewish objects. However, before engaging in a discussion on this topic we need to clarify that there were also Jewish artists in the marketplace, working alone or collaborating with Christian colleagues. Following the then prevailing custom, many of them did not leave their signature on their work, but circumstantial evidence sometimes overrides their quest for anonymity. Thus it is...

      (pp. 141-157)

      There is another side to this story: Jewish professionals shared their expertise with members of the Christian society and with its religious institutions. Ample documentation points to Jewish silversmiths, bookbinders, painters, and coral craftsmen helping Christians decorate their devotional articles. The churches, in their quest to embellish their sacred spaces, did not hesitate to seek out the help of Jews. Just as Christians turned a deaf ear to the prohibitions preached by the prelates, Jews, too, did not stringently follow the exhortations of the leaders of their quarter. Barriers were broken. The participation of Jews in what can be labeled...

    (pp. 158-161)

    When planning to study the role of the marketplace in the exchange of cultural values in the Middle Ages and the effects of external contribution on what we consider to be Jewish art, I did not envisage any revisionist perspectives. Scholars recognized the Gothic input into medieval Hebrew manuscripts and other liturgical objects long ago and it has become common currency among all observers. I did not doubt this when I began the project, and I have found no reason to change my mind as I reached the concluding stages. Instead, most of my efforts have gone in to attempting...

    (pp. 162-166)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 167-176)
  12. Index
    (pp. 177-186)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-188)