Friday, February 19, 2010
Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians, and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain
Curated by Dr. Vivian B. Mann, Director of the Masters Program in Jewish Art at the Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Uneasy Communion is a fascinating study on how retablos (large multi-paneled altarpieces) and related artwork produced during the 14th- and 15th centuries belie commonly held assumptions that Jews were not artists during the Middle Ages; that most medieval depictions of Jews were negative stereotypes; and that Jews lived apart from Christians, an unknown "Other." Instead, these works attest to the intimate knowledge Christians and Jews had of one another in the small towns and cities of medieval Spain. They also document the growing conflicts between the Church and the Jewish community and hint at the cataclysm to come in the Expulsion of the Jews in 1492.
"This exhibit intends to fill a gap in the scholarship of Jewish-Christian coexistence in medieval Spain, which to date has not used the art of the period as a source of valuable information," said Dr. Mann. "Art created by both Christian and Jewish artists, though, offers valuable glimpses into both the understanding of the Other and the ever-present conflict."
"Uneasy Communion provides the museum-goer with a rare opportunity to look at a unique moment in the artistic and social milieu of late medieval Spain," said Paul Tabor, MOBIA's Director of Exhibitions. "Paintings from multi-panel altarpieces as well as Latin and Hebrew manuscripts from major collections in Europe and the United States demonstrate the cooperative relationship between Christian and Jewish artists, some working in the same atelier, producing art for the Church and the Jewish community."
MOBIA examines this exciting moment of artistic collaboration by providing a glimpse into the lives of these communities which lived side by side. As a result, the exhibit also unveils the darker side of this co-existence, exposing the constant tension between acceptance and prejudice, between cooperation and conflict.
Uneasy Communion features a complete retablo along with 15 panels on loan from renowned national and international institutions, including the Museo de Zaragoza, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Hispanic Society of America. These works depict scenes of the early life of Jesus or episodes from the lives of saints. In the panel Christ Among the Doctors (early 15th century) Jewish worshippers are seated along the walls of a contemporary synagogue; such as the one recently discovered in Lorca (Murcia).
Also on view is the panel Interrogation of a Jew (1485-87) an example of a scene from Christian history which the artist peopled with his Jewish contemporaries. The scene is staged just inside an arcuated gate that marked many of the entrances to Jewish quarters or juderías. Judas, the Jewish witness in the foreground, is bearded and wears a cloak in accord with governmental dress regulations.
Located near Lincoln Center at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street, MOBIA presents critically acclaimed art exhibitions while offering an array of affordable arts enrichment programs to visitors of all ages. MOBIA celebrates and interprets art related to the Bible and its cultural legacy in Jewish and Christian traditions through exhibitions, education and scholarship. Admission to MOBIA's exhibitions is free for members and children under 12 and pay-what-you-wish for adults, with a suggested admission of $7.