How did Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt, among others, interpret the Hebrew Bible through their art? Famous paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance through the modern period, including examples of Jewish art, will be studied in relation to the religious and secular background of the period in which they were created.
The course examines the impact of the Hebrew Bible upon visual culture in the early modern period from 1450 to 1700, with special emphasis upon Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, as well as the creators of Jewish art. We will also study illustrated Bibles, prints of heroic and "evil' women of the Hebrew Bible, and varied biblical commentaries. The years following 1530 were rife with religious dissension as a consequence of the Reformation. Conflicts erupted between Catholics and Protestants, but also between varied Protestant sects. The extensive marginal notes and paraphrases in these Bibles, in addition to their illustrations, suggest how the Jewish revelation was variously viewed by Christian religious groups. At the same time Rabbinic Hebrew texts were translated into other languages, providing biblical interpretations for Christians as well as Jews. This class will compare visual interpretations of the same biblical themes by such famous artists as Michelangelo, Raphael, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, etc., including Dutch and Italian women artists, and the creators of Jewish art. We will investigate sculpture, painting, and prints, as well as Jewish marriage contracts, gravestones, Esther scrolls, Torah curtains, and illustrated manuscripts and books. The course will focus upon such themes as: Adam and Eve; Abraham and Isaac; Joseph and his Brothers; David as shepherd and king; and a significant part of the course is devoted to such famous women of the Hebrew Bible as Potiphar’s wife, Bathsheba, Sheba, Delilah, Susanna, Esther, and Judith (of the Apocrypha). Students will compare treatments of the same subject in the art of Italy, the Southern Netherlands, Holland, and Germany. In every case the works of art will be studied within the full historical and religious contexts of the period in which they were created. First, we shall study early modern, illustrated Bibles in the Special Collections at the Harlan Hatcher Library and in the Hebrew Collection of Books. The collection is rich and offers the opportunity to compare illustrations and commentaries in different Bibles. The next few weeks will be devoted to laying the groundwork for the historical and religious backgrounds in Italy, the Netherlands (South and North), and Germany; the remainder of the term will focus upon Christian and Jewish visual images of the same biblical themes from these cultures, with special emphasis upon the patriarchs and women of the Hebrew Bible. Students will analyze text in conjunction with images, and will study this material within the framework of varied methodologies, especially formalist, contextual, and feminist. The course will demonstrate that works of art may themselves serve as a document of history and culture, offering insights on religion, history, women’s studies, and, of course, the history of art. Students will discover the continued relevance and reinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible in European art from the Renaissance through the seventeenth century and its tremendous impact upon the visual arts. D. 3
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