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Ratigan, B. (2012). Splitting in Early Renaissance Northern European Religious Visual Culture. Free Associations, 13(1):8-31.

(2012). Free Associations, 13(1):8-31

Visualising the Other

Splitting in Early Renaissance Northern European Religious Visual Culture

Bernard Ratigan

This paper focuses on the representation of Jews and Judaism in the visual culture of Northern Europe in the period from about 1400 to the early 16th century CE. It uses psychoanalytic concepts as tools for understanding some aspects of the paintings, sculptures, prints, manuscripts and other objects of the period and their backgrounds. In particular, the paper makes a distinction between differentiation and splitting. Where the former expresses an acknowledged fact, like the monotheistic religious split into three distinct groups, the latter, splitting, expresses a particular form of differentiation where we are led to an antagonistic and hateful view of the Other. The paper will argue that towards the end of the first and the start of the second millennium CE there was a shift in the visual representation of Jews, from images that differentiated Jews and Judaism from Christians and Christianity, to ones that increasingly demonized them and where splitting was the dominant mechanism. These changes will be linked with developments in spirituality and Biblical hermeneutics. Three examples of the manifestation of splitting will be discussed: first, the contrast between two significantly similar female figures, the failing ‘synagoga’ and the thriving ‘ekklesia’; second, the development of the cult of Corpus Christi, which became linked with anti-Semitism particularly through the ‘blood libels’; and third, the growth of passion iconography as an expression of the vilification and demonization of Jews by Christians, particularly on the charge of ‘deicide’, the killing of a god.

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