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

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

Language: English

Pages: 456

ISBN: 0812222539

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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 in Judaism and Christian Art reveal 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.

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to build his interpretation. The key point is that the Red Sea narrative—whether as exemplary scriptural story or as work of art—is consistently and creatively appropriated for a range of Christian exegetic meanings. A striking commentary on the potential excess of such meanings and the need for interpretative restraint is offered by Augustine in his City of God, composed between Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410 and 426:82 For they [i.e., others with whom Augustine does not agree] think that the

who insisted that art should avoid mystery and stay with history.105 By figuring Jews simultaneously as both idolaters and iconoclasts, image makers throughout the centuries confirmed their own work’s place as the perfect mediator between carnal seeing and spiritual elevation. Dust, the lowest possible material substance that formed Adam’s body before God gave it a soul, still shaded Jewish eyes from the brilliant spirit of Christian art in which persons of faith alone could ‘‘detect the light of

nature, he gave us paradise and the celestial kingdom according to the divine substance.’’ 71. See Ann Freeman and Paul Meyvaert, ‘‘The Meaning of Theodulf’s Apse Mosaic at Germigny-des-Pre´s,’’ Gesta 40 (2001): 125–39. Theodulf’s was only a brief and unsuccessful skirmish in the battle against art, however; in his reply to the Opus caroli, Pope Hadrian evoked Gregory’s letters and once again confirmed the ark and cherubim were soulless objects made by hand and graven; as God made them and was

impunity but cannot be sacrificed in a religious ritual. The homo sacer represents the ultimate form of bare life because it occupies a space of indistinction where human life is devoid of rights or legal protection and is, therefore, subject to the unlimited exertion of power. Following Carl Schmitt, Agamben points out that sovereign power is fundamentally defined by the capacity to create and structure these spaces of indistinction, that is, the capacity to strip human life of its legal rights

Fellous goes well beyond earlier iconographic studies to apply to the miniatures the exegetical method that Arragel advocated for his glosses.59 Just as the commentary should be amenable to both Christian and Jew, each reading in accordance with his own faith, so also the images. Arragel’s play on the optical metaphor urging Christian and Jew ‘‘to see’’ respectively supports Fellous’s effort in this regard. abraham 157 The above-mentioned images of Christ nevertheless set limits to semiotic

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