Saturday, April 19, 2008

A taste of things to come

An intro section from my Directed Studies in Art paper.

Warning: For any lazy so-and-so's who found this in an effort to not think or write their own thoughts for work or school, remember these lines are very findable through Google as well as through turnitin.com. Don't plagiarize. Aside from the bad karma, everything you find that I've written is copyrighted by me.

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Image and After-Image:
Some Reflections on Carnival Marginalia and Images of Jews
in Medieval Christian Illuminated Manuscripts


Although George Kubler’s classic work, The Shape of Time, focuses on form through sequence/series rather than iconography (Kubler vii-viii), it offers an interesting platform from which to consider the content of illuminated medieval manuscripts. Kubler posited, “…astronomers and historians have this in common: both are concerned with appearances noted in the present but occurring in the past.” (Kubler 19) The thought-exercise of comparing art historians to astronomers and works of art to stars (Kubler 19) serendipitously mirrors the importance of the heavens, both physical and spiritual/psychic, to medieval Christians and Jews. Indeed, Kubler’s analogies are relevant to a central challenge of understanding medieval art—that of understanding it in context, despite our apparent remove in space and time from the world of the works’ creators.

Why, other than these felicitous metaphors, am I choosing an art historian known mainly for his writing on ancient Mesoamerican art as a connecting thread in an exploration of medieval Christian imagery? In part because Kubler famously (and controversially) wrote that “art stands outside culture” (Willey 674-75), he provides a useful counterpoint as we test the resilience of established methodologies and the strength of cultural filters applied by modern scholars to medieval art. Since Kubler downplayed the importance of an individual artist’s biography when considering the impact of the work itself (Kubler 5-8) he may provide an approach to the communal creativity represented by medieval codices. And his discussion of prime objects and replications (Kubler 39) is of particular interest for an examination of the images of Jews in medieval Christian illuminated manuscripts, if we consider real Jews of the time as prime object and the progressive change over time and series in depictions of Jews as replication.

In this paper, I will examine contemporary scholars’ views of medieval Christian illuminated manuscripts across a variety of secondary sources, with a look at the role of carnival imagery—imagery full of mockery, sex, filth, inversions, monsters, and puns—in marginalia, and a more persistent gaze at the role of images of Jews whether in marginalia or not. Specifically, I will discuss imagery associated with the concept of “the good Christian” and the accompanying after-images of “the Jew” in an effort to understand the meaning of these images for medieval Christian culture and the impact of these images on medieval Jews. In a very modest way, I hope to clarify the powerful impact these images had on medieval people and—in line with Kubler’s thought that the metaphoric light or shadow cast by a work of art creates a field of influence (Kubler 19) through time—I hope to show the equally powerful impact they continue to have on us.

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More to come...if you'd like the whole thing once done, please email lwitzel {at} austin {dot} rr {dot} com, thenkyewverymuch.

2 comments:

David Rochester said...

downplayed the importance of an individual artist’s biography when considering the impact of the work itself

This struck me as particularly interesting, not just in the context of your project, but as a way of looking at any kind of artistic expression. I have always been a bit baffled by the scholarly tendency to reduce creative expression to become artist-referential, as though academia hasn't ever figured out that once it leaves the artist, it belongs to the world, and it impacts the world, and the relevance it has is to the people who experience it.

I'm quite interested in this project of yours, particularly since the audience for the marginalia would have been so small and insular, at least as far as viewing the primary sources, since so few people could read, or ever had access to written material. It's interesting to consider the ways in which a closed circuit of information/attitudes became disseminated to people in general ... and the ways in which control of information prevents groups of people from forming their own opinions on a topic.

Lee's River/Zlatovyek said...

"felicitous metaphors" indeed, Lori. Looking forward to the rest.