Reading through The New York Times yesterday, I came across one of my favorite sections other than the book review: the antiques critique. I do not know how that title cannot make anyone smile. So I searched through the archive and found an article by Eve M. Khan, “Not All Medieval Sacred Art was Anti-Semitic.” Though Khan divides the article into three sections that are only loosely cohesive because the controlling idea of post cards and religion keep the article together, it was an interesting read because of the story it tells.
In Medieval art, “Jewish men, and a few women were depicted either as kindly Old Testament elders or hawk-nosed, greedy, murderous demons.” Immediately, I looked this art up on Google Images and indeed, found examples of Anti-Semitic art; however, the article’s next claim made me think that people living during Medieval times were also accepting of religious differences. Khan assents and raises another point, “the more tolerant artworks have remained largely unexplored.” This raises the question of whether or not society hyper focuses on bad press and thus, crafts bad attitudes about time periods because they ignore other styles of artwork. If art historians focus their attention on the attitude that all artwork created during Medieval times was Anti-Semitic, their research and commentaries will also likely hold these beliefs.
Khan traces Professor Lipton, writing a new book, in her travels across Europe to debunk the myth that all Medieval art was anti-Semitic. Lipton argues that the paintings were not supposed to arouse hatred, they were meant to, “draw worshipers’ attention” to the mass. She further explains through the perspective of the church, “We want you to look but not understand. We want you to ask us what’s going on.”
The article leaves me to investigate the question of religion during medieval times, but as I learned while preparing a paper for a class, this is no simple task.