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Frau Venus, the Eucharist and the Jews of Landshut

Frau Venus, the Eucharist and the Jews of Landshut
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  JUD ISM AND CHRISTI N RT Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism Edited by Herbert L Kessler and David Nirenberg PENN University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia · Oxford  Copyright © 2011 University of Pennsylvania Press All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of review or schola rl y citation, none of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Judaism and Christian art : aesthetic anxieties from the catacombs to colonialism I edited by Herbert L. Kessler and David Nirenberg. p. cm. Includes bibliographical referenc es and index. ISBN 978-0-8122-4285-0 (hardcover : alk. paper) L Christian art and symbolism-Eur ope. 2. Judaism in art. 3. Art, European-Themes, motives. I. Kessler, Herbert L., 1941- II . irenberg, David, 1964-N 8180.J83 2011 70 4.9' 482-dc22 2010023068  CHAPTER 6 Frau Venus the Eucharist and the Jews of Landshut Achim Timmermann In an article published a number of yea rs ago in the jo urn al Gesta, I examined the image of the Living Cross, without doubt one of the most violent antiJewish Crucifixion allegories of the later Middle Ages. 1 In most of the forty or so surviving examples, as at St. Francis at Poniky in Slovakia (Figure 6.1), 2 four hands, gesturing or holding objects, grow from the arms of the cross to which Christ has been nailed. The hands at the top and bottom of the vertical stem unlock the gate of heaven and obliterate hell or Purgatory, respectively, while the horizontal crossbar-known as the patibulum-generates two hands that pass judgment on the personifications of Ecclesia and Synagoga riding or standing beneath them. Usually the dexter hand crowns or blesses the church, while that on Christ's sinister side, wielding sword, dagger, or arrow, stabs the head, neck, or breast of Synagoga, not only keeping her at bay but completely annihilating her. In my study, I paid particular attention to the action of the left hand, delivering the fatal blow to Synagoga. I argued that beyond mercilessly allegorizing the redundancy of the Old Law, this iconography lends itself to specific historical readings, as it glosses on contemporary events, narratives, and anxieties. I thus contended that the Living Cross punishes Synagoga and her followers, the Jews, and as such may be read as a polemical inversion of contemporary stor ies of purported Je wish abuse, especially those of Eucharist desecration an d ritual murder , recently explored in a series of thought-provoking studies by Miri Rubin, Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, and Wolfgang Treue. 3 In the image, the roles of subject and object, of perpetrator and victim, become reversed. I  6.L Poniky, St. Francis, Living Cro ss, 1415. Photo: Achim Timmermann. also advanced the argument that the development of this iconography needs to be understood in the broader context of the fifteenth-century church reform and its anti-heretical propaganda, which often accused the Jews of collusion with heretics, the Bohemian Hussites in particular. t seemed significant to me that the image appeared at precisely the time when the Roman church was threatened by fragmentation, from within and without. In view of the Living Cross at Poniky, dating to 1415, I reasoned that the incorporation of the figure of a pope to the left of Ecclesia can be read as a contemporary conciliarist statement about the concord of the papal church under the banner of the sacrament, while defeated Synagoga on the left side of Christ symbolized and subsumed in herself at once Jews, Hussites, and other perceived foes of the church. I wish here to return to the image of the Living Cross, focusing on one specific example, which adorns the tympanum of the west portal of St. Martin's church at Landshut, Lower Bavaria (Figures 6. 2, 6.3 ). 4 The Landshut Living Cross is unusual for two reasons: not only is it the sole surviving sculptural adaptation of this iconography from before the Protestant Reformation, 5 the representation also substitutes the traditional figure of Ecclesia personified with that of a priest celebrating Mass before his congregation. What partly prompted me to undertake this study was an entry in a recent exhibition catalogue that, based on a number of older, local publications not known to me before, convincingly argued that the traditional dating of the tympanum to 1432 -which I A CHI M TI MM ERM ANN  6.2. Landshut, St. Martin, Living Cross, i452. Photo: Ac him Timmermann. 6.3. Landshut, St. Martin, Living Cross, detail of Synagoga. Photo: Achim Timmermann.
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