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Reviewed by:
  • The Jew in the Art of the Italian Renaissance
  • Yael Even
Dana E. Katz . The Jew in the Art of the Italian Renaissance. Jewish Culture and Contexts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. xii + 228 pp. index. illus. bibl. $55. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4085-6.

Dana Katz's examination of Christian images featuring Italian Jews is a welcome addition not only to Jewish studies but also to the reevaluation of Renaissance culture south of the Alps. In addition to exploring the attitudes toward Jewish communities in such cities as Urbino, Mantua, Ferrara, and Trent, it [End Page 1248] introduces and analyzes little known artworks from the northern part of the peninsula. The focus on these princely states is not arbitrary; according to the author, they were, among other things, home to "relatively prosperous Jewish populations."

Two of Katz's most interesting analyses are those of the virtually unknown Norsa Madonna and Hans Klocker's Beato Simon of Trent, both presenting actual portraits of allegedly infamous Jews. The former, a painting, features Daniele da Norsa, who was punished for having effaced a Christian image in his house in Mantua; the latter, a relief, portrays Tobias, Moises, and Samuel, who were executed for the alleged murder of Simon Unferboden of Trent. In these artworks, the condemned Jews appear at the bottom of the composition, marginalized by the looming figures of Mary and the Child above.

Other examined representations of fabricated tales characterizing Jews as merciless murderers include Ugolino di Prete Ilario's Tale of the Jewish Boy, completed in 1364 for the cathedral of Orvieto. Its subject is the Jews' brutal punishment of a Jewish boy who received communion. Ugoino's painting is compared to the famous Corpus Domini predella by Paolo Uccello, which displays a child as well and thus "play[s] on the [Christian] viewer's compassion."

The writer's study of accusatory inscriptions in frames of public images such as Niccolo di Pietro Lamberti's Madonna of the Rose at Orsanmichele is particularly enlightening. It reads: "A Jew attacked this statue with a knife and, confessing, was torn to pieces by the crowd and perished, 1493." Commemorating the apparent profanation of Lamberti's statue by Bartolomeo de Cases, these words serve as a warning to the entire community. At the same time, they exemplify the degree of violence against Italian Jews in Florence, which is studied —almost as an exception to the rule —in a relatively short chapter. Another accusatory inscription at the bottom of Andrea della Robbia's so-called Jews' Tabernacle of Empoli conveys the following message: "With the fine the Jews paid for their errors, the members of the Otto sitting in [15]18 had this [work] made in praise of God." Comparatively moderate in tone, these words reflect the contempt with which the Jewish community was held in Empoli.

Katz's iconographical explorations are accompanied by comprehensive and detailed historical accounts based on what must have been painstaking archival research. The numerous documents from different Northern Italian archives support her arguments; they are of special significance as they can also be used in the future by diverse scholars of Northern Italy. Most of these sources are transcribed in full in the endnotes; some appear in translation in the text itself.

The short format of a book review does obviously not allow for a full evaluation of Katz's study. My report, so to speak, does not comment, for example, on her extended analysis of Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi)'s Crucifix with Ecclesia and Synagoga, created in 1523 in Ferrara. Nor does it summarize, for instance, her detailed examination of Augustinians' attitudes toward Jews. What I can do, however, is to recommend Katz's text to scholars and students of the northern Italian Renaissance, in particular, and to those of the Italian Renaissance, in [End Page 1249] general. The latter should at least be aware of it. I have no doubt that researchers and teachers of Jewish history, in particular Jewish history in Northern Italy, will consider Katz's work required reading.

Yael Even
University of Missouri-St. Louis
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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 1248-1250
Launched on MUSE
2008-12-24
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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