Post-classical history



Jews and the Mirror of Society, CA. 1220–1300


Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;

They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

—William Shakespeare, Sonnet 24, lines 13–14

Around the year 1200 the remarkable creative, artistic, and reforming energy that had animated the great monasteries and cathedral schools of twelfth-century Europe began to spill over into the wider world. In rapidly expanding cities across the continent, clerics paid new notice to lay behavior and mores, scholars paid new attention to natural and physical phenomena, rulers flaunted new powers and ambitions, and laymen displayed new piety and prosperity.1 As Jews were attracted to the cities by the opportunities and protections they offered, Jewish life became even more thoroughly literate, commercialized, and urbanized than previously. Christian society followed suit, with a substantial merchant class and bourgeoisie developing for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire. These developments had significant impact on the visual life of medieval people: as cathedrals rose, courts flourished, markets burgeoned, and workshops multiplied, images suddenly seemed to be everywhere in Christendom.2 And it sometimes can seem that Jews were everywhere in thirteenth-century Christian imagery. In contrast to the previous two centuries, when images of Jews, though steadily proliferating, had remained largely confined to biblical manuscripts and sculpture or liturgical objects evocative of the historical past, Jews now began to appear in a far wider variety of genres (illustrated apocrypha and apocalypses, biblical commentaries, bestiaries, miracles of the Virgin, lives of the saints, treatises on virtue and vice, histories of the world) and to be associated with a broadened range of objects or animals, many recognizable from everyday life. In moralizing imagery in various types of artworks, coins and coin-filled moneybags signified moneylending or avarice; cats, which were associated with hunting and nighttime and symbolized heresy, were shown with Jews; and crows, which collected shiny objects, and toads, which swelled themselves up, signaled greed and usury, the illicit amassing of wealth. Through these and other images, Jews, traditionally used to signify the outdated past, came to be identified with the most “modern” of activities and tendencies—moneylending, philosophy, heresy, curiosity. [Fig. 1] So, for example, an illustration of the end of the world depicts the followers of Antichrist as money-clutching Jews; a roundel condemning heresy shows Jews inviting university students to worship a demonic cat; an image of Hypocrisy portrays Jews worshipping an idol; and an entry in a bestiary describing the owl’s preference for darkness is illustrated with a blindfolded Jew engaged in a futile dispute.3 Many of these artworks enlist and extend the visual strategies examined in the last chapter—assigning to Jews coarse features and cruel expressions. These new image collections are so striking, their use of physiognomy and expression is so powerful, and so many recent studies have been devoted to their analysis that one might well conclude that thirteenth-century artists were obsessed with Jews and that thirteenth-century art was obsessively anti-Jewish.4


FIG. 1

This impression is quite misleading. In spite of the undoubted deployment of innovative and often (to us) disturbing anti-Jewish imagery in the thirteenth century, most manuscripts of the period, whether Bibles, bestiaries, hagiographies, commentaries, or histories, still show few readily identifiable postbiblical Jews and even fewer denigrated or distorted ones. The same holds true for monumental sculpture, liturgical objects and vestments, and stained glass. Beyond the confines of a group of arresting but by no means typical works, the vast majority of figures construable as Jews continue to fall into a narrow range of standard characters: Hebrew prophets or New Testament Judeans, with the occasional addition of a single hell-bound unbeliever in the company of other sinners.5 It is a considerable challenge to square this general visual reticence and conservatism regarding Jews with the intense anti-Judaism of a small number of objects and creative iconographic innovations. And yet in the best scholastic fashion we must try to reconcile these apparent contradictions, if we are to arrive at anything like a representative sense of the place of Jews in thirteenth-century art.

In this chapter I approach that task by surveying the full range of “Jewish” figures (that is, of figures whom viewers could and probably would have identified as Jewish or associated with Judaism because of their clothing, faces, actions, or attributes) in a single great multimedia monument: the cathedral of Chartres. Chartres is a useful test case for reasons both historical and practical. As an early example of the Gothic style that came to dominate thirteenth-century France and eventually much of the rest of Europe, Chartres was one of the most influential—and so is one of the most intensively studied—of all medieval buildings.6 It contains the most complete surviving ensemble of thirteenth-century stained glass and sculpture;7 its chapter and school were in close touch with prevailing intellectual trends;8 its bishops were involved in the most important religious, military, and political developments of the day; it was patronized by the Capetian royal dynasty; and (not least) high-quality images of its sculpture and glass are readily available on the Web.9 Moreover, several aspects of the cathedral of Chartres make it a likely locus for the working out of Jewish imagery: it was a major center of the growing cult of the Virgin, which generated wildly popular miracle tales that often featured Jewish scoundrels; its decoration is closely related to the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Bibles moralisées, probably the most relentlessly anti-Jewish of all thirteenth-century artworks; its stained glass program draws heavily from preaching exempla, a genre in which Jews often feature; and it has been singled out in a recent book on anti-Jewish art as the “supreme embodiment” of Christian triumphalism.10 Few structures offer so rich a field for exploring what thirteenth-century Christians might glean about Jews from looking at art.

1. Venerable Signs, Venerable Prophets

The vast majority of “Judaic” figures encountered by visitors to Chartres are not despised infidels but revered forerunners. The prominence of Hebrew prophets, patriarchs, and monarchs in the sculptures and glass of Chartres, as of all other Gothic cathedrals, is striking. At least twenty-two large-scale Old Testament figures and countless small ones adorn the major entrance to the cathedral, the three doors that together comprise the Royal Portal of the west facade. Although this portal dates to about 1145—exactly contemporary to Suger’s Abbey Church of Saint-Denis—and so may have appeared old-fashioned to thirteenth-century viewers, it nevertheless remained a point of civic pride for residents of Chartres and a source of wonder and delight for visiting pilgrims. Its depiction of Hebrew figures inevitably influenced, and would have informed viewers’ reception of, subsequent depictions of Jews.11 [Fig. 2] Their clothing, for example, appears on characters in a range of different scenes that eventually came to adorn the cathedral. This similarity helps to mark those other figures as “Judaic,” but it also draws attention to the differences in behavior and outlook between the prophets and elders on the Royal Portal and their less revered descendants. Much of what we find in the Royal Portal is familiar from earlier artworks. The standing prophets carved on either side of all three doorways perpetuate iconographic traditions that go back to the late eleventh century: their beards, hats, and scrolls embody antique authority, confirming the central role of Hebrew scripture in Christian thought while simultaneously ratifying the respectability of artistic innovation.12 [Fig. 3] Other areas of the Royal Portal use traditional iconography to address more timely (that is, mid-twelfth-century) concerns. The Hebrew elders on the lintel of the northern door, for example, recall the debates examined in chapter 2, when depictions of Hebrews with blocked or partial vision helped distinguish spiritual ways of seeing from material ones.13Although these elders sit just below a glorious image of Christ in Majesty, he is not visible to them: they awkwardly crane their necks in a fruitless attempt to see the divinity hidden from them by their own framing and by a roiling cloud.14 [Fig. 4] They are, however, not ridiculed for their incapacity: they are garbed and seated with dignity and endowed with the same beards and scrolls as the more prescient prophets.


FIG. 2


FIG. 3


FIG. 4

This basic approach to Hebraic heritage did not disappear: the thirteenth-century contributions to Chartres’s imagery continued to emphasize the authentic if archaic nature of Hebrew history and prophecy. Sometimes this message is conveyed via traditional iconographic signs, as in the cathedral’s two versions of the Jesse tree (visual genealogy of Christ in the form of a family tree), in which mantles or hats, scrolls, and beards endow Christ’s ancestors and the prophets who foretold his coming with an aura of wisdom and venerability.15 [Fig. 5] The value of Hebrew antiquity can also be expressed through placement: the situating of Isaiah and Jeremiah alongside Saints Peter and John the Baptist in the north porch central portal, for example, underscores the continuity from the Old Law to the New.16 New stylistic developments could be used to reinforce traditional themes: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other remarkably carved Hebrews on the same portal are often cited as examples of a new valuation of the physical, visible world.17 [Fig. 6] The wonderfully wise and care-lined, compassionate faces of these kings and prophets wed human emotion and divine revelation, while their fleshly realism seems to concede value and beauty to the corporeal realm, traditionally associated with Judaism.18


FIG. 5

Of course this new regard for the human body by no means amounts to a wholesale embrace of materialism, much less of Hebraic literalism or ritual. Thirteenth-century artworks continued to declare the superiority of “spiritual Christian” over “material Hebrew” vision. The famous lancets depicting evangelists sitting on the shoulders of prophets transferred to the religious realm a metaphor for intellectual progress popularized at the Chartres cathedral school, where in the twelfth century a master declared (with deceptive humility) that he and his fellow scholars were “dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants.”19 [Fig. 7; see also color insert] All these images are inherently unsympathetic to ongoing observance of the Old Law, in that they either underscore the antiquity of Hebrew scripture or stress the incompleteness of Hebrew vision and the obsolescence of Hebrew law. Yet there is nothing condemnatory in the way they visualize those fundamental Christian tenets. The Hebrew prophets carrying evangelists on their shoulders look more like caring fathers than subjugated slaves; they also evoke images of Saint Christopher bearing Christ on his back. The funnel-shaped pointed hat worn by Isaiah in a window dating to around 1230 may look odd to modern eyes, and it is true that such hats appear on Jews in contemporary manuscripts that are indisputably hostile to Judaism.20 But nothing at Chartres prompts the viewer to read this particular hat as denigrating: the flowering rod that Isaiah holds refers to the Virgin Mary, whose virginal conception he was believed to have foretold, and so emphasizes his foresight. Prophetic imagery such as this monumental Isaiah says nothing whatsoever about contemporary adherents of the superseded law (that is, living medieval Jews). Supersessionist theology was undoubtedly implicitly intolerant of Jewishness, but its visual expression at Chartres often does nothing to make intolerance explicit or to heighten anti-Judaism.


FIG. 6


FIG. 7

2. New Signs, Familiar Figures

In other contexts, particularly in the elaborate narrative ensembles pioneered in the thirteenth-century sculptural and stained glass programs, we see images that encourage new—and more visceral—readings of old episodes and texts. In some cases they do this by applying to (nonprophetic) Old Testament figures the stylistic and iconographic innovations developed in the 1170s and 1180s. These innovations include exaggerated or grotesque facial features, expressions of rage or despair, and emphatic or aggressive hand gestures; as we saw in chapter 3, they often serve to draw attention to the improper affective responses of Christ’s opponents, Jew and non-Jew alike. In other cases, new readings are prompted by the introduction of garments, gestures, and objects that evoke contemporary courtly/urban society or relate to current intellectual and economic trends.

Both types of sign accompany the three friends who counsel the suffering Job in the tympanum of the right portal of the north transept entrance, sometimes called the Portal of Wisdom.21 [Fig. 8] On the left three men gaze upon Job, lying passively on a dung heap, covered with sores. Job’s sufferings prefigure those of Christ, just as Job’s body recalls that of Christ in Entombment scenes; the friends therefore exemplify various responses to the sight of Christ’s agony. Their symbolic identities, however, are not easy to establish. According to the Bible (Job 4–11), these friends give Job poor counsel, false friendship, and empty exhortation; in medieval biblical commentary they were held to signify a range of iniquitous characters, from heretics to unbelievers of various stripes to corrupt prelates.22 The friends in this Chartres tympanum have been interpreted as representing the Old Law personified, a Muslim (portrayed as a pagan philosopher), and a hypocrite or heretic, though these attributions are not universally accepted.23 But if theidentity of these friends is uncertain, the image does give subtle but significant clues concerning their qualities. The foremost of the friends frowns and seems to lecture the afflicted sufferer, while fastidiously holding his robe away from Job in the manner of an aristocrat avoiding contact with a pauper (or perhaps a Jewish priest avoiding contact with a corpse, as specified in Lev. 21:1). This man’s entire aspect speaks of haughtiness, selfishness, and a lack of fellowship and compassion. The friend in the center, the sole beardless male in the scene, turns away from Job and toward the man on the left, presenting a distinct view of his prominent and bony nose.24 The significance of this feature is not clear. As we have seen, in the late twelfth century distorted noses of various types generally signified moral turpitude. By around 1220, when this portal was made, this particular kind of large, hooked nose had been often though by no means exclusively depicted on Jews, especially in images of the Crucifixion, where it called attention to the Jews’ refusal to contemplate Christ. The lack of a beard may, however, weigh against identifying the figure as a Jew. Moreover, the seated Jeremiah on the left frame of the right doorway of the royal portal has a prominent, bony nose, which could not have been intended to denigrate the prophet. The third friend, on the far left, consults or debates with the second while anxiously pulling at his beard. This is also a familiar and ambiguous gesture: as we have seen, it can signify fear, fury, or consternation on the one hand or compassionate concern on the other.25 In light of the overwhelmingly negative interpretations of these characters, it seems safe to assume that here the friend’s gesture is not caring but contemptuous, especially since the sole other figure at Chartres shown pulling his beard is a Jewish judge ordering the stoning of Saint Stephen.26 Overall, then, Job’s three friends seem to be characterized by pride, recalcitrance, callousness, and intellectual arrogance. These are all qualities that were associated with Jews in contemporary religious polemic, and each figure has at least some visual cues associated with Jewishness.27 None of the figures, though, is unambiguously depicted as Jewish, and these same negative qualities were also frequently linked in contemporary sermons and biblical commentary with heretics and corrupt Christians.


FIG. 8

The reading of Job’s friends as exemplars of a typically but not exclusively Jewish kind of intellectual arrogance is reinforced by the analogous figures in the lintel just below, which depicts the Judgment of Solomon, in which the king has to decide which of two women is the true mother of a child claimed by both (1 Kings 3:16–22).28 [Fig. 9] Most medieval commentators on this episode highlighted its Christological (and so at least potentially anti-Jewish) significance: Augustine identified the two mothers as Ecclesia and Synagoga, who fight over Christ; Claudius of Turin, echoed by the Glossa Ordinaria, suggested that the false mother was either Synagoga or heretics.29 Bernard of Clairvaux likewise scolded the false mother as “impious Synagoga.”30 For our purposes, I am less concerned with the central theological struggle embodied in the two women than with the unprecedented representation of multiple peripheral observers. To the right of the mothers are six seated onlookers, all very diverse in both appearance and reaction. Two—one in the center background and one on the far right—are clean-shaven, sporting fashionable chin-length, bobbed hairstyles favored by courtly nobles.31 The figure on the far right touches the cord of his cloak, also a gesture associated with high social status.32 Both of these men gaze in the direction of King Solomon, whom they physically resemble. A third man, with shoulder-length hair and a short, trimmed beard, also looks toward the king; he too touches the cord of his cloak with one hand while resting his other hand peacefully on his knee. These three men, then, appear to be respected and respectful courtiers, listening with reverence and dignity to Solomon’s wise ruling. There is nothing “Jewish”-looking about them, though they presumably represent the discerning among Israel: their calm, contemplative gazes seem to epitomize verse 3:28: “Israel learned of the judgment of the king and revered the king because they saw that he had in him a divine wisdom.” The other three men do not look toward the king, and they seem confused, distracted, or agitated rather than prescient. The man on the far left, who has strong features and a long, pointed beard, stares out toward the viewer with an unfocused or preoccupied expression. The last two men are engaged in a heated academic or legal debate. On the right, a man with a dark, curly beard and bony nose and wearing the cap of a judge leans forward on his seat and gestures vigorously with both hands. His colleague has a long, curly, forked beard and wears a pointed hat, presumably to indicate that he is a priest. He turns away from Solomon as he stretches his right arm across his chest, as if to deny or contradict the king’s decree.33 The full grouping, then, highlights the varying responses to the judgment displayed by Solomon’s people (Israel) and suggests that some at least—the elders among them—were led astray by rigidity, pride of office, intellectual arrogance, and/or the Old Law itself. Since the Bible states that Solomon’s wisdom came directly from God (1 Kings 3:28: “he possessed wisdom from God”), the image in effect proclaims the superiority of divine revelation over legalism, hieratic authority, high office, or book-based learning, here associated via the signs of the hat and the beard with Jewishness—though explicitly not with all Israel.


FIG. 9

The famous stained glass windows of Chartres likewise use gestures, expressions, features, and attire to shape our reading of biblical personnel.34 As in the Job tympanum and the Solomon lintel, while some of these signs seem to align iniquity with Jewishness, the alignment is by no means consistent, exclusive, or totalizing. [Fig. 10] In the window dedicated to Joseph the Patriarch, two of the brothers who cast Joseph into the well are drawn in profile, accenting their pointed, goatee-type beards and bony, curved or hooked noses.35 In the next scene these same features appear on the hooded brother who points aggressively toward (perhaps haggling with?) an Egyptian slave trader offering up a handful of coins. The Egyptian trader is almost the mirror image of Joseph’s brother—he is drawn in profile and has a forward-curving pointed beard. These two men, Judean shepherd and Egyptian merchant, thus resemble each other to a striking degree, presumably to highlight and indict the greed and hard-heartedness of both seller and purchaser. The second Egyptian in the scene of the selling of Joseph, who grabs Joseph’s hand, is bearded and wears a slightly peaked cap—a form of headgear displayed on both Jews and merchants. It is, then, certainly possible to see an anti-Jewish element in these scenes, especially in light of stereotypical allegations of Jewish avarice and lack of compassion (as well as of Joseph’s status as a “type” for Christ). But such a reading is by no means the only one. It is worth noting that the other brothers are all rendered in a neutral or nondistinctive fashion.36


FIG. 10

The same somewhat confusing deployment of (possibly) Jewish signs occurs in the window illustrating the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32).37 The visual narrative has, as noted by Wolfgang Kemp, “hardly anything to do with the biblical text,” instead using the parable as a springboard for criticizing contemporary mores and airing pressing concerns.38 According to one recent interpretation, the window sets up a moral contest in which Everyman (the Prodigal Son) wavers between the spiritual transcendence of the church (the father’s home) and the materialism of urban commercial life (the town in which the son squanders his inheritance).39 Given the conventional polemical association of Judaism with materialism and corruption, one might expect that the urban characters would display Jewish signs, and the father, Christian ones. But this is not the case. Instead, it is the father who is given signs associated with both Hebrew antiquity and Jewish prosperity.

In the first scene, in which the Prodigal Son asks for his inheritance, the father resembles a Hebrew patriarch: bearded, wearing a peaked cap, seated on a throne-like chair, one hand poised commandingly on his knee. [Fig. 11] The fashionably clad, clean-shaven, curly haired Prodigal Son refuses to take the advice of this venerable figure, pointing impudently into his father’s face. [Fig. 12] In the next scene, the father stands beside a golden treasure chest and hands a golden double cup to his son, who also cradles a pile of gold coins in his arm. Here the father seems to have changed personae. He wears a small skullcap and a midlength robe revealing his slightly bent legs; beside his active and energetic fur-cloaked son he looks less like a venerable patriarch than a somewhat obsequious merchant or shopkeeper catering to a young nobleman. Although in another context this scene could easily be read as a satire on Jewish commercialism, what is condemned here is not the father’s amassed wealth but the son’s pretension, arrogance, and disrespect. [Fig. 13] By contrast, in the town, that bastion of corrupt materialism, there are no Jewish-looking figures at all. Instead, the depravities of the “world” are embodied in women and youths: in yet another display of upended social hierarchy, our young heir is preyed upon by lowborn prostitutes, gamblers, and serving boys. [Fig. 14; see also color insert] The Prodigal Son does not encounter another Jewish-looking figure until, destitute, he hires himself out as a laborer to a bearded, seated man wearing a skullcap. As the labor in question is guarding swine in a wood, the employer must be a wealthy rural householder, as similar in status to the father as he is in appearance. This symbolic return to the paternal fold is followed by an actual return, as the Prodigal goes back to his father’s house.


FIG. 11


FIG. 12


FIG. 13


FIG. 14

In the final scenes, which show [Fig. 15] the older son protesting his brother’s favorable treatment, [Fig. 16] the father ordering the killing of the fatted calf, and the celebratory feast, order has been restored and the father has regained his vigor and authority. His beard, cap, and cloak again recall those of antique patriarchs, while in the feast scene his solid centrality echoes that of Christ presiding at the Last Supper. All this suggests that if the father’s home is the site of “spirituality,” that spirituality consists not of antimaterialistic asceticism but of tradition, stability, and venerable authority—qualities readily expressed through Hebraic signs. And while the sins of the Prodigal Son and the town dwellers are manifold, they are not in any way visually linked to the stereotypical materialism of the Jew. This window, then, does not use Jewish signs to envision virtue and vice along the lines of a “spirit-matter” dichotomy, as one might expect. Instead, it (somewhat surprisingly) enlists signs of the Old Law to promote old-fashioned values. As we shall see, it does this not in order to praise Jewishness but to critique aspects of Christian society.


FIG. 15


FIG. 16

3. New Genres, New Villains

In addition to such reimagined biblical scenes and characters, the sculpture and glass of Chartres also display many examples of elaborate narratives peopled by a wide range of new characters and a host of new iconographic signs.40 Some of these undoubtedly articulate an intensified hostility toward Jewishness. [Fig. 17; see also color insert] In an elaborately symbolic window that combines tales of Christ’s Passion with Old Testament typologies, for example, Synagoga has a snake wrapped around her eyes instead of the traditional blindfold.41 To further underscore the satanic source of her blindness, she is shot in the eye by a small bestial demon.42


FIG. 17

The villains of the cathedral’s extensive narrative hagiographical cycles are often endowed with Jewish attributes, apparently in order to link their sins to excessive literalism, lack of compassion, and/or excessive materialism. [Fig. 18] So, for example, the Saint Stephen window contains several scenes of the protomartyr debating Jewish doctors of the law.43 Beard, mantle, and pointed hat recall the law they are misguidedly invoking, while the sources of their error are specified in their pointing, debating, and reckoning gestures, which bespeak arrogance and pedantry, and in the demon that flies down to join them.

However, characters who are explicitly not labeled Jewish in the texts but who lay false claim to knowledge, power, and authority are also endowed with Jewish signs. [Fig. 19] Such figures include the pagan magicians who gesticulate vigorously as they dispute with Saints Simon and Jude,44[Fig. 20] the Persian magician who sends his disciple to debate with Saint James the Greater,45 [Fig. 21] and the Gentile in the Saint Sylvester window who at Constantine’s order worships a golden idol that is lifting up two bowls of coins.46 All of these characters flaunt symbols associated with Jewishness—beards, pointy hats or mantles, pseudo-Hebrew scrolls or books, hooked noses. They are thus shown to combine stereotypical Jewish qualities—excessive attachment to the text, legal literalism, pride of position or attachment to ritual, bestiality or moral turpitude—with newer and perhaps more topical failings: intellectual arrogance, as represented by the disputing gesture, and commercial greed, as represented by coins.


FIG. 18


FIG. 19


FIG. 20


FIG. 21

Not surprisingly, many of these signs reoccur in a tale from the Legend of Saint Nicholas featuring a Jewish moneylender, recounted in two different windows at Chartres.47 [Fig. 22]. In this tale, the Jew lends money to a Christian customer, who swears on a statue of Saint Nicholas that he will repay the loan by a certain date.48 [Fig. 23; see also color insert] The Christian then cheats the Jew by falsely swearing on the same statue that he had already handed over the required amount to the Jew (in fact he had hidden the money in a staff he asked the Jew to hold for a brief moment). The perjurer is killed by an offended Saint Nicholas and then brought back to life, whereupon the Jew converts. A recent analysis of these images suggested that they expressed the discomfort felt by the clerics attached to the chapter of Chartres Cathedral at the new power and prominence in their city of finance and commerce, seen as dangerous and volatile, and crystallized in the figure of the Jew.49 Certainly the centrality of money and exchange is very pronounced, but it is hard to agree that the primary theme of the tale is the evils of a money-based economy, much less of the Jew: the window was paid for by the proceeds of local commerce, on which the entire prosperity of Chartres was based. Nor is such a reading supported by the visual cues assigned these characters. Although the Jewish moneylender holds a moneybag, in the first panel his appearance speaks not of volatility and danger but of stability and authority, even generosity. In one window he wears a rounded cap and in the other a pointed hat with earflaps; in both he leans forward to offer the money with an open-palmed gesture. In beard, attire, and posture he resembles the father of the Prodigal Son and displays the same the kind of dignity and authority (see fig. 11). [Fig. 24] He also looks very much like the money changer’s client in the donor panel of the Joseph window. (In Chartres the customers of local money changers were either visiting merchants or pilgrims—both welcome classes of people. The money changers themselves were respected citizens of the town, permitted by the cathedral chapter to practice their trade even on Sundays, presumably for the convenience of pilgrims.)50 The clothing and attitude of the false borrower, by contrast, convey instability (in his youth, the curve of his body, even the fluttering of his hem), arrogance (the pointing gesture), extravagance (in his gold-trimmed clothing), and deceit (in his posture: he seems to wear his double cross on his sleeve, crossing his arms as he swears the false oath). Nor are these contrasting appearances inapt—they enshrine the moral differences in the characters. The false borrower is the “infidel” in the story, breaking faith and practicing a very “Jewish” form of exegesis in clinging to the letter of the law: his oath was strictly—literally—true, though essentially false. And the Jewish moneylender is in many ways its faithful hero. Not only does he accept an oath on a Christian image as surety for the loan rather than insist on a signed contract, as any thirteenth-century moneylender would surely do, but according to many versions of the legend he asks Saint Nicholas to revive the dead borrower, displaying both pity and faith in the Christian saint well before his conversion. One is tempted to echo Portia in the courtroom scene of The Merchant of Venice and ask: “Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?”51


FIG. 22


FIG. 23


FIG. 24

One final aspect of Jewish iconography at Chartres must be noted—the many “missed opportunities” for anti-Jewish imagery in the sculpture and glass of Chartres. [Fig. 25] In the same window that literally demonized the Jewish rabbis who opposed Saint Stephen in debate, the saint’s killers are clean-shaven and bareheaded, displaying no signs of Jewishness.52 Almost none of the martyricides in the so-called Portal of the Martyrs on the south porch of the cathedral or in any of the dozens of stained glass martyrdom scenes are shown as Jews. [Fig. 26] Cain, so frequently both interpreted and depicted as a Jew in Christian exegesis and art, displays no signs of Jewishness, even in the scene in which he slays his brother.53 In the window illustrating the Good Samaritan parable, the priest and the Levite, both traditionally glossed as exemplifying the harshness of the Old Law, are depicted as, respectively, a tonsured Catholic priest and a Catholic deacon.54 [Fig. 27] The Jewish high priest of apocryphal legend whose hand withered when he impiously touched the coffin of the Virgin Mary is portrayed here as bareheaded and clean-shaven; no visual cues identify him as Jewish.55 And I could go on and on.


FIG. 25


FIG. 26


FIG. 27

4. Who Is a Jew?

Who, then, is a Jew, and what is Jewishness in the imagery of Chartres Cathedral? Let us start with clothing, since medieval viewers seemed to pay particular attention to attire.56 By the thirteenth century the “Jewish hat” had become a strong, if by no means required or inevitable, signifier of Jewishness. But at Chartres hunting for Jews’ hats does not get us very far. Both “good” and “bad” Hebrews and Jews wear pointed hats, peaked caps, mantles, funnel-shaped caps, and rounded skullcaps; there are also numerous Jews with uncovered heads. Nor is the meaning of the Jews’ headgear unambiguous. In some cases (such as the idol-worshipping subject of Constantine in the Saint Sylvester window) it serves to link the sterile Old Law to a broad range of trespasses, some apparently unrelated to Judaic practice; in other cases (the Prodigal’s father) it seems to summon the respect that the Old Law continued to enjoy throughout medieval Christendom. The same holds true for scrolls, beards, and even coins: they can be read negatively or positively, depending on the context of their use and the character of their possessor. At Chartres Jews can display greed or generosity, foresight or blindness, belief or unbelief.

There is, then, no single, unifying message about Jews conveyed by the glass and sculpture of Chartres. Nor should we expect one in a monument that was not coherently conceived, that was planned, built, and paid for by dozens, perhaps hundreds of different people, and that rose and was modified over the course of several decades.57 Many of the variations in clothing, feature, and expression may be attributable primarily to workshop convention. But we can make one generalization about the iconography of Jewishness in these images. Without exception, every object, garment, feature, or facial expression attributed to a Judean or Jewish character can be found many more times on Gentile and Christian figures. Jews are not the only figures nor even the majority of figures in these images who wear peaked hats, pointed hoods, or rounded caps—all of these are customarily shown not only on ancient priests of various rites but on Christian merchants, burghers, artisans, and customers. Indeed, I cannot assert with any confidence that all the characters I have discussed here were considered Jewish or intended to evoke Jewishness. Some, such as Constantine’s mantle-wearing idol worshipper, are certainly not Jewish, though his attire looks distinctly Hebraic. The depiction of Jews at Chartres thus highlights a truth that many medieval texts tell us anyway: it was difficult to distinguish a Jew from a non-Jew in thirteenth-century western Europe. Canon 68 of the Fourth Lateran Council, convened in 1215 by Pope Innocent III to cleanse and organize Christendom according to an ambitious reform program, imposed distinctive clothing on Jews because, the decree explicitly states, Jews were visually indistinguishable from Christians throughout much of Europe.58 In the following decades the policy was adopted, though often not enforced, by secular rulers in France, England, Spain, Sicily, Germany, and elsewhere.59 We can conclude that in all these regions Jews and Christians were outwardly indistinguishable. Indeed, two thirteenth-century church councils complained that Jews dressed the same as, and could not be told apart from, Christian clerics!60

Jewish texts also acknowledged the potential for identity confusion, and Jewish religious authorities echoed Christian ones in condemning outward resemblance and seeking to prevent it. Rabbinical synods in early-thirteenth-century Germany chastised young men for looking and dressing like Christians, and a Hebrew story collection narrates a tale about a Jew who went to hell because he refused to grow a beard.61 Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (d. 1293) reproved men who patronized Christian hat shops on Saturdays; although his main concern was that Jews might use items made on the Sabbath, the responsum confirms that Jews and Christians frequented the same hat shops and presumably wore similar hats.62 The same rabbi was asked to respond to the case of a Jewish man who regularly posed as a Christian, calling him “one of those despicable creatures who wander from town to town and alternately appear as Jews or as fanatical Christians.”63 This disjunction between Jews’ desired visual distinctiveness and their actual visual anonymity was emphasized all the more by recent artistic trends: just as Christians had become used to the sight of pointy-hatted Hebrews in their works of art, they began to notice that there were very few pointy-hatted Jews in their own world. The confusion and ambiguity plaguing so many images of Jews at Chartres (and, I must add, in almost all thirteenth-century artworks in which they appear) underscores the Jews’ disturbing lack of visual distinctiveness in life.

5. All the World a Picture

This cannot be the whole story. Although Jews were apparently not visually identifiable, most medieval town dwellers must have known who in their communities was Jewish and who was not. Jews were a tiny minority in thirteenth-century French cities and towns, as in most of the rest of Christendom. In spite of what seems to have been a considerable degree of cultural assimilation, they had their own communities, customs, and diets.64 Jews were not geographically isolated or residentially segregated, but they tended for convenience’s sake to live close to one another in certain quarters. The vast majority of social services and networks were intrareligious. The primary fear expressed by the Lateran decree—that “through error Christians have [sexual] relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women”—is the one kind of mixing that seems least likely to result from identity confusion, as Jewish (and Muslim) male members were unambiguously different from uncircumcised Christian ones.65 And even if some instances of identity confusion did arise in social or business situations, this need not be replicated in art: Gothic artists were perfectly able to devise signs with which to clearly identify their characters. Saints were known by their haloes, kings by their crowns, usurers by their moneybags, and Muslims by their turbans, though it is unlikely that any of these items regularly adorned such figures on the streets of medieval Chartres or, for that matter, Paris, London, or Rome. And of course, when artists wanted unambiguously to identify a Jew, they had means at their disposal with which to do so.

The ambiguity of religious identity at Chartres, then, was deliberate. And it extends to non-Jewish figures as well: Christian identity is hardly more straightforward. Saints are readily identified as such, but how was an artist to signal the less-than-saintly believer? As we have seen (fig. 24), the money changer’s client is iconographically indistinguishable from many Jews.

Far from being unique to the art of Chartres, awareness of the disjunction between socioreligious identity and outward appearance permeates thirteenth-century sermons, laws, letters, moral treatises, even fabliaux. In this rapidly urbanizing and increasingly commercialized and bureaucratized world, wealth began to replace descent as a source and marker of social status;66 literacy and education began to replace rank and kinship as a source of governmental authority;67 and written contracts began to replace personal ties and physical pledges as the basis for economic relations.68 Old certainties were undermined, old correlations were ruptured.69 Many texts testify to contemporary discomfort with these trends. A courtier complained that lowborn royal justices used their offices to “lord it” over their social superiors.70 Reformers expended considerable intellectual energy trying to distinguish acceptable professional and economic activities from unacceptable ones.71 Pastors struggled mightily, and usually ineffectively, to teach their flocks to reflect their inner spiritual state in outward behavior and appearance.72 Authors mocked spiritual and social pretension by elaborately detailing their characters’ inappropriate dress.73 Prelates fretted about how to comprehend (and control) new types of pious Christians, such as the lay devotees known as Beguines and Beghards, who failed to fit neatly into any categories, being neither secular nor monastic, fish nor fowl.74 Both the trends themselves and the complaints they inspired recalled aspects of Jewish life, which had long been more thoroughly literate, more intensely textualized, more commercialized, and more urbanized than most Christian communities—qualities that had been reinforced in recent decades. Critics implied, and sometimes explicitly alleged, that Christians were turning into Jews.75 The perceived “Jewishness” of the new urban culture reverberates throughout a sermon given by the abbot of one of the most respected religious houses in Paris, in which he reproaches his canons for unbecoming behavior. Not only did they exhibit such typically secular (or Jewish) vices as pride and luxury, he scolds, but they had even taken to wearing typically secular (or Jewish) clothing: sumptuous materials, bright colors, and even, he specifically laments, the pilleus—the cap now closely associated with both merchants and Jews.76

The threat posed by Jews, then, or rather by the qualities Jews embodied and the iconographic signs Jews displayed, was that in their undermining of traditional authority in favor of textuality and materiality, they encapsulated much wider trends. Coins and documents, like clothing, now seemed to create a new, alternate reality that threatened to supplant the deeper spiritual “reality” of Christian teaching—the superiority of faith and virtue. This is explicitly stated in a letter sent by Pope Innocent III to King Philip II of France in January 1205. The letter is a long litany of complaints about the perceived preferential treatment accorded Jews in France. After repeating some standard grievances concerning the pawning of precious ecclesiastical vessels (such as chalices) to Jews and the employment of Christian servants by Jews, Innocent moves on to lambast the privileging of Jewish witnesses in court: Jews, he says, “have to this day been given preference in the French realm to such an extent that Christian witnesses are not believed against them, while they are admitted to testimony against Christians. Thus, if the Christian witnesses to whom they have loaned money on usury bring Christian witnesses about the facts in the case, [the Jews] are given more credence because of the document (instrumento) which the indiscreet debtor has left with them through negligence or carelessness than are the Christians through the witnesses produced.”77 In other words: how dare you accept the physical evidence of outsiders over the sworn testimony of friends!

Few modern readers would share Innocent’s outrage; our own courts would naturally privilege written documentation supplied by a creditor over the word of a defaulting debtor who could not produce proof of quittance. But this is because in our legal egalitarian, rationalist, and evidence-oriented society truth is considered autonomous, independent of the identity or status of its asserter. This was not the case in the corporate, hierarchical, and hieratic society of medieval Christendom, where virtue and legal standing had traditionally been very much tied up with identity and the word of members of some classes was valued over that of others.78 Compare Innocent’s lament with an almost exactly contemporary text written by and for the clerics attached to Chartres, presumably to help finance the construction of the cathedral, the Miracles de Notre-Dame de Chartres. The second tale in the collection tells of the miraculous healing of a blind boy. The author adduces as proof of the Virgin’s divine intervention the testimony of “so many and such honest witnesses,” which (he claims) silenced “Jews, heretics, and all those who habitually deny and denigrate the miracles of saints.”79 Both of these texts demonstrate the coexistence of clashing epistemologies. In the traditional world of faith, the word of a believer must always prevail over the rationalism, skepticism, and even hard evidence of the unbeliever.80 In royal courts and urban markets, this assumption was quaint at best: written financial documents and legal instruments increasingly held sway.81 That such innovations should violate venerable values and render the status and faith of competing witnesses irrelevant seemed to Pope Innocent to undermine the very foundations of Christian society.82

Innocent was, of course, fighting a losing battle against the authority of the written instrument, just as nobles were unsuccessfully resisting the encroachment of royal bureaucrats and wealthy burghers, prelates could not prevent their increasingly literate flocks from reading and thinking for themselves, and moralists were doomed never fully to stamp out greed and luxury.83 But Christendom in the high Middle Ages was an energetic place, and its leaders did not despair. Instead, they harnessed all the creativity their world had to offer as they sought to reverse this chaotic situation. Clerics not only chastised Christian vice in their sermons, they regulated Christian behavior in their laws and insisted that transgressors—heretics and prostitutes in particular—be openly marked as such.84Nobles countered burghers’ appropriation of their economic and political influence by investing more in outward display, while also instituting sumptuary laws designed to preserve visual distinctions.85 The town of Chartres itself proudly proclaimed its prosperity and well-being by parading gold and silver reliquaries, elaborate crosses, and jewels of great value through the town streets.86

Christians also paid intensified and highly hostile attention to previously neglected aspects of Jews’ lives. The decree ordering the imposition of the Jewish badge by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 was reissued in varying forms by church councils throughout the thirteenth century. New signs, too, were devised to make Jews’ appearances project their desired state of subjection. In a remarkable case of life imitating art, two church councils in 1267 ordered Jews to wear the pileum cornutum, the pointed cap, “as their ancestors used to do.”87 (In the absence of centuries-old photo albums, we must assume that the primary evidence for how Jews “used to” dress was Christian art.) The imposition of the Jewish badge, like the sumptuary laws and the regulation of the clothing of prostitutes and other despised professions, attempted to restore social and moral clarity, to reestablish a correlation between identity and outward aspect. Though these attempts were largely vain in the case of sumptuous display, they were eventually more successful in affecting Jews’ appearances, as clerical pressure finally began to take effect and the badge regulations came to be enforced by key secular rulers.88

5. A Mirror of Society

Perhaps the most graphic, and ultimately the most powerful, of all the means by which the church tried simultaneously to caution against confusion and model heavenly hierarchy was art. If the images of Jews at Chartres (and so many other Gothic artworks) are confused, it was because the urban world with which Jews were conceptually, and often actually, associated was viewed as disturbingly confusing. That is, the visual illegibility of the Jew was a symptom of a perceived ill affecting society as a whole. So there is, after all, a unifying message to all the images of Jews at Chartres—not about Jews in particular but about high medieval Christendom in general: it was a confusing and often misleading place where one was hard-pressed to tell a friend from an enemy, a swindler from a sage.89 This situation helps explain the proliferation of demons in the imagery of Chartres: demons have to be shown whispering into villains’ ears, because without them the villains could well be taken for the heroes. The artists responsible for the Chartres images need not have consciously set out to lament this situation. Rather, consciousness of it—of the disturbingly confusing nature of urban society—grew in tandem with the new artistic trends. As artists and their patrons began to look at and desire more realistically and minutely to replicate the world around them, its lack of visual clarity would have sprung into sharp relief.

It is by now a commonplace to call the art of the Gothic cathedral, and especially its stained glass, a mirror of medieval society.90 And indeed the scenes we have looked at, whether biblical, apocryphal, or legendary, re-create the texture of contemporary life to a striking degree.91 The sites, characters, and appurtenances of urban existence are replicated in profusion and detail: from the windows of Chartres we can learn what trades were practiced, how tables were set, and what games were played in the taverns, halls, and markets of thirteenth-century France. But for all its social realism, Gothic art offers neither an accurate nor even an idealized mirror of society. It is, rather, a selective, instrumental, and deeply opinionated reflection.92 In that mirror, Jews recur in specific ways. If the images we have examined do not give us an easily intelligible “hermeneutical Jew,”93they nevertheless consistently align “Jewishness” with certain select themes and realms. In addition to highlighting the confusion of social life, the difficulty of telling who is who, and the instability of the category “Jew” (and so also “Christian”), depictions of Jews at Chartres repeatedly problematize three major sets of relations. First, in underscoring the textual errors of rabbis, judges, and magicians, the images challenge the assumption that legal, bookish learning conveys religious illumination.94 Second, in assigning badges of office, postures of authority, and gestures of command to unsuitable or immoral figures, the images highlight the disjunction between merit (whether ethical or social) and power. Finally, in showing good usurers and bad heirs, idols with coins and patriarchs with coins, evil sellers and iniquitous buyers, the images sever any correlation between wealth or poverty on the one hand and vice or virtue on the other.95 In other words, they express concern not only that the virtuous and the vicious, like the Jew and the Christian, are easily confused but that those who know most, who earn most, and who dominate most are not necessarily the people most deserving of knowledge, wealth, and power.

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At the dawn of the thirteenth century, Christians trained their gaze on the world around them with new intensity. If in earlier centuries Christian teachers had looked primarily to a book—The Book—for moral instruction and spiritual guidance, they now looked to the material and social world to embody and display it.96 But society did not offer a readily legible lesson. As sermon after sermon reminds us, Christians had to be taught how to appear and how to see.97 We can find this new approach to self-presentation and visual training in a range of texts and actions: in a new desire to regulate people’s appearances and mark people’s identities, in treatises that teach people the proper position for prayer, and in the use of art to clarify and highlight moral and spiritual correspondences.98 We can also see it, I believe, in the dizzying proliferation and striking variety of images of Jews at Chartres and beyond. Partly because of their age-old role as witnesses to Christian truth and signs of Christian triumph, partly because Jews had by now become recognizable artistic symbols, and partly because they dramatically underscored the illegibility of the real world, Jews were enlisted in high medieval art to expose the unreliability of what was visible (nature and society), while at the same time make manifest what was not (the all-too-obscured “truth”).99 The Jew, in his manifold variation, became a visible figure for the complex and confusing nature of the rapidly changing urban world.

How and whether this lesson was read and understood depended on many factors: the identity of the viewer, the moment and context of viewing, the angle from which the images were viewed. The overwhelming preponderance of “Jewish” signs at Chartres appear on venerated prophetic Hebrews, as will continue to be the case for the remainder of the Middle Ages. A devout pilgrim could easily enter the Royal Portal, wander the aisles, and wonder at the glass without once thinking censoriously of his or her Jewish neighbors or blaming his or her ills on infidels. To see the images of Jews at Chartres as powerfully anti-Jewish requires very selective reading indeed, a willful disregard of the visual similarity between Jewish moneylender and generously forgiving father. Without strong additional anti-Jewish fanning these images alone were highly unlikely to ignite an anti-Jewish fire. But in thirteenth-century France, of course, such fanning was all too frequent. Had our same devout pilgrim just returned from a Crusade, heard a Good Friday sermon imprecating the Jews, heard rumors or read reports of a ritual murder, enjoyed an anti-Jewish Marian song, been treated to a mystery play, scanned the pages of an anti-Jewish illuminated manuscript, quarreled with a Jewish neighbor, or failed to balance the family books, his or her gaze may well have been arrested by—and his or her resentment fed by—images of hooded usurers or hook-nosed rabbis.

Sparking such resentment was certainly not the aim of the designers of Chartres. Though the images we have seen here paralleled and perhaps encouraged legislation that sought to make Jews look more like their artistic renderings, there is little evidence that the clerics involved in designing thirteenth-century artworks supported anti-Jewish violence or promoted expulsion.100 Yet such violence, both judicial and extrajudicial, did begin to characterize Jewish-Christian relations by the end of the century, and a series of large-scale expulsions was inaugurated in 1290. A particular kind of image introduced in the mid-thirteenth century helps explain and also helped facilitate this development.

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