Christian cultures across the centuries have invoked Judaism in order to debate, represent, and contain the dangers presented by the sensual nature of art. By engaging Judaism, both real and imagined, they explored and expanded the perils and possibilities for Christian representation of the material world. Christian art has always defined itself through the figures of Judaism that it produces. From its beginnings, Christianity confronted a host of questions about visual representation. Should Christians make art, or does attention to the beautiful works of human hands constitute a misplaced emphasis on the things of this world or, worse, a form of idolatry ("Thou shalt make no graven image")? And if art is allowed, upon what styles, motifs, and symbols should it draw? Christian artists, theologians, and philosophers answered these questions and many others by thinking about and representing the relationship of Christianity to Judaism- They dis so from the catacombs to colonialism, with special emphasis on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Christian art deployed cohorts of "Jews"-more figurative than real-in order to conquer, defend, and explore its own territory.


Biblia Sacra (in Latin), Venice, 1721. By Nicolaus Pezzana

In April 1546 the Council of Trent reaffirmed the authority of the Latin version of the Bible known as the Vulgate and prescribed that a new and reliable edition of its text be released immediately. The Vatican published the authoritative edition 44 years later, in 1590, under the pontificate of Sixtus V. Although expected to be a definitive edition, the Sixtine Bible was corrected and revised two years later by order of the new Pope, Clement VIII. The Clementine Vulgate remained the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council held between 1962 and 1965. It was reprinted countless times in a variety of formats.
The Latin Bible [shown] here was published by Nicolaus Pezzana, a Venetian printer who produced at least five editions of the text between 1706 and 1765. The Nicolaus Pezzana who issued a Latin Bible in 1669 was probably his father. All the Latin Bibles printed by the Pezzana family were profusely illustrated with woodcuts printed from blocks reused or recopied over the years. They also share an engraved title page designed by Isabella Piccini (1644-1734), the daughter of a Venetian engraver and an artist in her own right. Born Elisabetta Piccini, she entered the Franciscan convent of Santa Croce in Venice after the death of her father, in 1666, and had a long and productive career as an engraver and illustrator of religious books. On the title page she designed for the Pezzana Bibles, Moses and Peter stand on both sides of an open Bible. Moses wears a horned headdress and holds the Tablets of the Law and a staff while Peter wears the triple crown of the Popes and holds a large cross. [...] James W. Watts pointed out [that] two similar figures are labeled Synagoga and Ecclesia, the Synagogue and the Church, on the title page of a Latin Bible published in 1680 in Lyons. The Dove of the Holy Spirit hovers between Moses and Peter. Christ’s initials engraved on Peter’s breast send rays to a globe at the bottom of the image and the symbols of the Four Evangelists (angel, eagle, bull, and lion) are depicted to the right of Peter. The lower register includes, in addition to the globe marked with the names of Europe and Africa, a menorah and an enigmatic image that appears to show blood flowing from Christ’s hands, feet, and heart (MOBIA)


Helena Eflerová, Synagoga performance, Anima/Animus, UK, 2013. Directed by Kye Wilson.


JMB - Workshop Berlin

Judentum und Juden im Schatten der Reformation. Lehrerfortbildung im Rahmen des Themenjahres der Lutherdekade der Evangelischen Kirche »Reformation und Toleranz«. Die »Judensau« mit Inschrift an der Stadtkirche zu Wittenberg ist eines von vielen Beispielen, die aufzeigen, dass die Reformation und Martin Luther nachhaltige Spuren im christlich-jüdischen Verhältnis hinterlassen haben. Wie haben jüdische Zeitgenossen am Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts die Reformation erlebt und welche Erwartungen waren damit verknüpft? Im Anschluss an die Führung durch die Ausstellung werden beide Seiten beleuchtet. Tanja Petersen vom Jüdischen Museum Berlin stellt jüdische Quellen damaliger Zeitgenossen vor und Pfarrer Andreas Goetze zeigt Luthers Blick auf die Juden und das Judentum auf. Beide möchten mit Ihnen diskutieren, welches Erbe Martin Luther und die Reformation hinterlassen haben, mit ihren gegen die Juden gerichteten, weithin gehässigen und feindlichen Äußerungen und Maßnahmen.

Imagen: Schüler als Ecclesia und Synagoga im Workshop gegen Antisemitismus. Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Foto: Söhnke Tollkühn


Scott Freeman, The Wall Remaining, 2013.

Colorado, Loveland Museum-Gallery, Zeitgeist: Paintings Inspired by Germany, February 2014.

Artist's remarks: "Mollie [Walker Freeman] and I chose to title our exhibit, Zeitgeist, which means “spirit of the times.” [...] It seems obvious to me that the world is broken and that there is something terribly wrong with the human condition. I believe we’re all seeking unity between Man and God, between Man and Man, and between Man and Nature. I would guess that all of us are giving our energies to one or more of these pursuits. [...] Mollie and I have also included our personal visions of unity, community, and communion in the exhibit. My triptych, The Wall Remaining, quotes tragic medieval iconography, and looks forward to what I believe will be a new unity emerging between the Synagogue and the Church" (ZG).

Scott Freeman, The Wall Remaining, February 2014. Quote from the catalog:


The history of relations between the Church and the Synagogue is one of the world’s tragic stories. The first followers of Jesus (Yeshua in, Hebrew,) were all Jewish, and his “church” began as a sect of first century Judaism. As these early Jewish disciples spread the message of Jesus, a series of events, described in Acts chapter 15, led to an astounding decision on the part of his disciples: the Jewish church in Jerusalem made the decision to fully welcome gentile (non-Jewish) believers, as brothers and sisters, into their company without requiring them to become Jewish. The gentiles’ status as joint heirs would be based on their being “partakers of the new covenant” of Yeshua. The ancient Mosaic covenant sign of circumcision, as well as Torah observance, would not be required of them.

As a result of this inclusivity, large numbers of gentiles came into the church, eventually outnumbering the Jewish members. As the church became more gentilized over time, and as Jewish members increasingly found themselves out of favor with traditional Jews, the church took on a distinctly Greco-Roman character. By the time of the first Ecumenical Council under the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, there was not a single Jewish bishop in attendance, though some 1800 invitations were sent out across the empire. Increasingly, anti-Jewish laws were passed under subsequent Christian emperors and kings so that the Church eventually became an openly anti-Jewish institution, generally consigning Jews to an inferior status, and at times actively persecuting them.

Throughout Europe, it is still possible to see vestiges of the historic, divisive relationship between the Church and the Synagogue displayed in the artistic embellishments of its cathedrals. Many cathedrals feature two figures: Ecclesia (the Church,) and Synagoga (the Synagogue.) Triumphant Ecclesia wears a crown, and usually holds a staff and a Eucharistic chalice. Synagoga is always blindfolded, and carries a broken staff and a representation of the Torah. Though I had previously read about these two allegorical figures in my books, I saw them for the first time in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The sight of them deeply saddened me.

It is noteworthy that the New Testament scriptures do not support this division. The Jewish apostle Paul writes:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision (Jews,)…were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise…But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:11-16)

Here I have painted Ecclesia and Synagoga as ossified and broken statues warming in the light of these scriptures. Ecclesia is not triumphant; instead her head is bowed down. Synagoga has become indignant and distanced; understandably so. The wall remaining, though invisible, is as formidable and as obstinate as the Berlin wall ever was. The figure in the center panel reaches for the hands of the two ladies, awaiting the healing and the unity-in-diversity that I believe we will see in our lifetimes; a unity that has not existed since the dawn of the early Church.

See also:

Art & Church History: The Uncut Version
What Easter Has To Do With Separating Christians and Jews



Synagoga motif

Magdeburger Dom Sculptures

Ireland, 1862

Bird's Heads Haggadah