Sunday, November 30, 2014

And so it goes.
When Christian artists did begin to single out Jews, it was not through their bodies, features, or even ritual implements, but with hats. Around the year 1100, a time of intensified biblical scholarship and growing interest in the past, as well as great artistic innovation, artists began paying new attention to Old Testament imagery, which had been relatively neglected in favor of New Testament illustration in early medieval art. Hebrew prophets wearing distinctive-looking pointed caps began appearing in the pages of richly illuminated Bibles and on the carved facades of the Romanesque churches that were then rising across western Christendom.

...In the second half of the twelfth century, a new devotional trend promoting compassionate contemplation of the mortal, suffering Christ caused artists to turn their attention to Jews’ faces. In an enamel casket dating to about 1170, the central Jew in the group to the left of the crucified Christ has a large, hooked nose, all out of proportion both to his own face and to the noses of the other figures on the casket. Though this grotesque profile resembles modern racialist anti-Semitic caricature, it does not seem—yet—to bear the same meaning. No Christian texts written up to this point attribute any particular physical characteristics to Jews, much less refer to the existence of a peculiar “Jewish nose.” Instead of signaling ethnic hatred, this Jew’s ugly visage reflects contemporary Christian concerns. In accord with the new devotions, artworks had just begun to portray Christ as humbled and dying. Some Christians struggled with the new imagery, discomfited by the sight of divine suffering. Proponents of the new devotions criticized such resistance. Failure to be properly moved by portrayals of Christ’s affliction was identified with “Jewish” hard-hearted ways of looking. In this and many other images, then, the Jew’s prominent nose serves primarily to draw attention to the angle of his head, turned ostentatiously away from the sight of Christ, and so links the Jew’s misbegotten flesh to his misdirected gaze.
A better title for a better essay, in two parts, would be How Europeans became White, followed by How the Jews Became White. The bottom photo is Sara Lipton


forward, and again.

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