Some English Examples of the Mediaeval Representation of Church and Synagogue

Articles Image

MANY will probably remember seeing reproductions of the sculptured figures of Church and Synagogue on the south door of Strasburg Cathedral, and two reflections in particular will come to their minds. One, as expressed by Israel Abrahams2, that "The artists were true to their craft, for though the theological motive was to do dishonour to the Synagogue, yet they added to the aesthetic value of their work by invariably depicting the Synagogue as a beautiful woman, slender, graceful, infinitely pathetic." The other is that motive itself, to dishonour the Synagogue, the keynote of ecclesiastical policy in the Middle Ages towards the Jews, a note which can be distinguished amidst the glorious harmonies of Gothic art in Western Europe. For the theme is not a passing idiosyncrasy of the Strasburg craftsmen, or rather of their patrons. It was prevalent in Western Europe for many centuries, and that not by accident, for as an organic part it co-existed with the supremacy of Papal power and Gothic art. The subject of the representation of Church and Synagogue has for more than a hundred years been treated in France and Germany, with occasional references in England and Italy. The leading authority is P. Weber's Geistliches Schauspiel und Kirchliche Kunst (1894) but neither therein nor elsewhere has much attention been given to the subject of English illustrations of the theme. Although these show little variation from the Continental types it has been thought that they would repay discussion and that such discussion should be preceded by the slight sketch of relevant Continental art and literature which is necessary for a full comprehension, particularly in view of the unity of mediaeval art and culture.

The history of the pictorial representation of Church and Synagogue reaches back to the early days of Christian art, when their relationship was regarded as complementary, sometimes perhaps as contrasting, but not as the fierce antagonism which we shall see developing in Gothic times. Venturi3 sees in the mosaics at Santa Pudenziana at Rome (of the end of the fourth century) the first great historical representation of Christianity, emerging victorious with Theodosius in the first struggle against paganism with the two female figures, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, represented as Roman patricians crowning and glorifying Christ. The two figures are the personification of the Church, deriving from Judaism and the Gentiles, from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which are to be found in the later mosaics.

J. O. Westwood in his Catalogue of Fictile Ivories* in respect of the following centuries in which, as he says, "we are destitute of sculptures and to a great extent also of analogous pictorial representations", gives several examples of works in this material which are invaluable in bridging the gap between the immediately post-classical period and the

1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 8th March, 1948.

2 The Decalogue in Art (in Studies in Jewish Literature) 1913, p. 33.

3 Storia dell 'Arte Italiana (1901) Vol. I, pp. 246-8, 249-50.

4 A Descriptive Catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart