Tuesday, 25 February 2020

History Review: Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography by Sara Lipton

After the introduction there are seven chapters: Mirror of the Fathers: The Birth of a Jewish Iconography, ca. 1015-1100, Blinding Light and Blinkered Witness, ca. 1100-1160, Jewish Eyes: Loveless Looking and the Unlovely Christ, ca. 1160-1220, All the World’s a Picture: Jews and the Mirror of Society, ca. 1220-1300, The Jew’s Face: Flesh, Sight, and Sovereignty, ca. 1230-1350, Where are the Jewish Women?, and The Jew in the Crowd: Surveillance and Civic Vision, ca 1350-1500.

The first few chapters the author would posit an idea and then later refute it, making a mess of my attempts to note take the book. I found the later chapters much more straightforward. The chapters are all subdivided into smaller subjects that wrap around the issue so you get a feel for the times and places being discussed in addition to the main question of how Jews were depicted in art during the middle ages.

She alternates between generalized statements and specific examples but constantly reminds the reader that there is no singular interpretation - that anti-semitic images existed along side images showing Jews witnessing ancient prophets and detailing important Old Testament stories in positive ways. The slow evolution of images from merely illustrating stories to hook nosed, cap wearing personifications of evil is a sad reflection of their society as a whole, made even sadder by the fact that you can see a lot of similar beliefs/accusations against Jews and other minority groups cropping up in society today.

The book contains a good amount of black and white photographs of the artworks discussed as well as a central section with colour photos.

It’s an interesting and complex topic and the author does a good job of breaking it down into smaller, easy to understand pieces.

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