Skip to main content

IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 909: Annual Medieval Academy Lecture: 'Against the Jews, Saracens, and heretics who say we adore idols': Art as Orthodoxy

Tuesday 14 July 2009, 19.30-20.30

Sponsor:Medieval Academy of America
Introduction:Eva Frojmovic, Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Leeds
Speaker:Herbert L. Kessler, Department of the History of Art, Johns Hopkins University

Beginning with an opening from the prayer book of Charles the Bald in Munich, the lecture examines the ways in which looking at representations of the Crucifixion set up a dialogic process, analogous to medical diagnosis, aimed at curing the viewers. The confronted pictures, which include an early instance of a serpent at the base of the cross, play on Moses' Brazen Serpent which healed the faithful in the desert; and they develop the pun on 'vulnera' in the caption to show the humble Carolingian king (and in turn others examining the opening) being healed of mortal and moral wounds through empathy with the Saviour's pictured suffering. An interplay between carnal and spiritual seeing characterizes other depictions of the Crucifixion as well. One, in a bestiary in Brussels, introduces into the biblical typology animal lore about curative seeing; and a caption accompanying another depiction in Munich makes explicit the conceit that looking at the Crucifixion ameliorates physical ailments and also sin: 'A snake was raised up against the snakes, because Christ, who hangs on the cross, stopped the disease, destroying the power and poison of the ancient serpent (i.e. the enemy). Thus, look on him who hangs on the cross and your illness will be alleviated.' Pictures of the Crucifixion could be effective only if they were examined intently, activating a compassionate response with the Saviour's suffering, made necessary because of humankind's sin and made possible when God again assumed the flesh, and also sanctifying the very process of looking at art, which depended on an analogous reciprocity between human and divine natures.

Please note that admission to this event will be on a first-come, first-served basis. In contrast to previous years there will be no tickets for the event. We recommend that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disappointment. The room will open 15 minutes before the lecture is scheduled to begin.

The Medieval Academy of America is very pleased to sponsor the Annual Medieval Academy Lecture at the International Medieval Congress. The goal is to contribute a major scholarly lecture to the offerings of the Congress while serving better the Academy's many members who reside outside North America. All Congress participants are invited to Professor Kessler's lecture and to the celebratory reception following the lecture. Information regarding the Medieval Academy and the benefits of membership, which is open to all medievalists worldwide, is available at .