"Golgotha's Great Horror, as Reflected in Hans Burgkmair's Augsburg Calvary of 1504"
Mitchell Merback, Johns Hopkins University


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  • Host Department: History of Art
  • Date: 04/14/2011
  • Time: 4:00PM - 6:00PM

  • Location: 180 Tappan Hall

  • Description: This paper unravels the implications of a troubling motif in Hans Burgkmair's Calvary of 1504 – the mirror-image of a Jewish soldier, staring back at his flesh-and-blood counterpart – and situates it with the imperatives of south German Passion piety and meditative pilgrimage, especially as they were understood by the nuns of Augsburg's Katharinenkloster, for whom the work was made. The Passion scene caps a large, lunette-shaped ensemble that, when completed, joined five other "Basilikabilder," commissioned to commemorate a papal privilege of 1487. According to this, the same indulgence earned by pilgrims to Rome's "stational churches" the nuns could acquire meditatively, without leaving the convent. How did this oddly antagonistic and seemingly antisemitic motif enhance the function of the S. Croce Basilikabild as an aid to virtual pilgrimage? Steeped in Dominican affective mysticism, south German Passion piety on the eve of the Reformation demanded an interior "conversion" akin to the Centurion's, and a penitential self-recognition akin to Magdalene's. Pursuing this path to union with God, Christians were taught to acknowledge the perpetual nature of Christ's Passion and to struggle against their own "judaizing" selves – the carnal willfulness that pierced Christ's body ever and again. Impossible for the blind Jews, the self-knowledge sought by the penitential pilgrim could be glimpsed in a paradoxical place, in the very place where "nobody" (Niemand) dares to look: in the mirror-image of a repulsive Jewish nobody, a dark tormentor who is also everybody.
    About Mitchell Merback: Born in Philadelphia, Mitchell B. Merback studied fine arts and ceramics at Alfred University in New York, and later went on to study art history at the University of Chicago, receiving his PhD in 1995. After teaching for fifteen years at DePauw University in Indiana, he is currently associate professor of history of art at the Johns Hopkins University. His first book, The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (London and Chicago, 1999), brought critical acclaim and several awards. A second book, Pilgrimage and Pogrom: Myth, Memory and Visual Culture at the Host-Miracle Shrines of Germany and Austria (University of Chicago Press) was published in 2009. He is a recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University, the Clark Art Institute and the American Academy in Berlin.