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Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity$
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Lindsay Kaplan

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190678241

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190678241.001.0001

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Making Darkness Visible

Making Darkness Visible

The Colors of Subjection in Medieval English Psalter Illuminations

Chapter:
(p.81) 3 Making Darkness Visible
Source:
Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity
Author(s):

Lindsay Kaplan

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190678241.003.0004

This chapter demonstrates how figural inferiority shapes visual representations of Passion scenes in which dark-skinned Jews attack Jesus. These portrayals emerge in a period when accounts of the Passion increasingly emphasize Jesus’s suffering at the hands of his Jewish enemies. Scholars have explained English psalter illuminations of dark Jews as participating in negative patristic associations of the “Ethiopian.” This chapter argues that dark colors connoting death and damnation provide another explanatory context. The author considers representations of the damned and of devils portrayed as blue, gray, and brown to interpret images of similarly toned Jews in thirteenth-century psalters. In attacking Jesus, whose sacrifice secures redemption from eternal death, the Jews bring upon themselves not only the curse of a servile life, but also the damnation of the soul that leads to everlasting death. The images embody the Jews’ spiritual abjection as infernal: not only hellish, but inferior.

Keywords:   Black Jews, psalter illuminations, England, hell, damnation, death, torture, slavery, art history

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