Art history research - Critical Essay
Fount of mercy, city of blood: cultic anti-Judaism and the Pulkau Passion Altarpiece.
In 1931 the German Benedictine scholar Romuald Bauerreiss, who thirty years later would write the definitive church history for Bavaria in seven volumes, published a small book entitled Pie Jesu: Das Schmerzensmannbild und sein Einfluss auf die mittelalterliche Frommigkeit (Pie Jesu: The Man of Sorrows Image and Its Influence on Medieval Piety). (1) Building on an already sizable literature concerning the imago pietatis (the traditional Latin name for this image type), (2) Bauerreiss juxtaposed in provocative ways the sacramental, liturgical, devotional, and mortuary contexts in which the image appeared north of the Alps after 1300. (3) In particular, the author drew attention to a set of connections between the image of the wounded, suffering Christ and a family of pilgrimage shrines, most of them in German-speaking lands, whose foundation legends linked them to Eucharistic miracles (Hostienwunder) of the kind centered on the sacrilegious abuse of the host (Hostienfrevel): the so-called Holy Blood (Heilig Blut) churches. (4) With great resourcefulness but little of the art historian's iconographic rigor, Bauerreiss traced the Man of Sorrows and its major variants to the expected places of Eucharistic consecration, reservation, display, and celebration (sacrament houses, tabernacles, ciboria, altars, and their predella niches). But he also pursued the image beyond its principal identity as a "Eucharistic cult image" (eucharistische Gnadenbild) and beyond the church interior, notably to the cemetery, where the devotional formula and its narrativevisionary counterpart, the image of the Mass of Saint Gregory, found frequent use on epitaphs. (5) Finally, and with some regret, Bauerreiss also linked the Man of Sorrows to the sites of anti-Jewish accusation and violence, destroyed synagogues and places associated with massacres, executions, and expulsions of Jews, places that carried names--ominous to us now--like Judenberg, Judenbuchel, Judenstein, and Judengrube. (6) This trail of clues led back, via the stereotyped legend of Jewish host desecration in its many localized versions, to a core group of Eucharistic miracle shrines and their bleeding-host cults. Despite the subsequent disappearance of key monuments at several important sites in this group, Bauerreiss concluded that the Man of Sorrows had, in this context, received special veneration as an intercessionary and wonder-working image, particularly in the most sacred zone of the church, the legendary locus of the host's profanation, concealment, recovery, and elevation. Pious tradition, sharing a term with archaeology, called this sacred center the "find-spot" (Fundstelle, or Fundort) of the host. (7)Thus had the imago pietatis, which Gertrud Schiller called "the most precise visual expression of the piety of the Late Middle Ages," (8) become, in effect, a programmatic image for a species of Christian cult station, nearly peculiar to the religious culture of imperial southern Germany and Austria. It was here, in these contiguous regions, where the connections between host miracles, recorded accusations, and persecutions were plentiful; where violence often paved the way for pilgrimage; where Christ himself, in the tradition of crusader piety, was imagined demanding vengeance on unbelievers; where local histories were often permeated with anti-Jewish myths and postmassacre memories--here the Man of Sorrows appeared as a veritable patron of pogroms. Facing this legacy critically at a dangerous time, Father Bauerreiss courageously characterized this species of cult image as a "monument to sacrilege"--meant, I think, in a double sense. (9) Bauerreiss's is a provocative thesis, one that has received ample support, if not explicit reformulation, in recent historical work on the connections between "Eucharistic piety" and "medieval anti-Semitism" (to use two familiar, if problematic, phrases). (10) Art historians, by contrast, have not shown much interest in following up on Bauerreiss's original research. The neglect is felt, first of all, in the voluminous art historical literature on the Man of Sorrows; this discourse, otherwise bristling with lively controversies, has relegated the thesis to a footnote. (11) It is also found in the even larger area of research, born in the decades following World War II, devoted to the "iconography of anti-Semitism" (a third problematic phrase). Until recently this discourse has committed itself almost exclusively to the task of accounting for the great array of stereotyped themes, figures, motifs, and "signs of otherness" through which Christian culture constructed its image of Judaism and "the Jew" from about the late eleventh century on. Along with this cataloging impulse came a model of interpretation entirely dependent on the theological, polemical, legendary, and folkloric sources. (12) Within this model it was either the allegorical image of Judaism--as developed, for example, in the iconography of Ecclesia and...