TitleWhen the Kingdom Comes Messianic Themes in Medieval Jewish Art
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1967
AuthorsGutmann, Joseph
JournalArt Journal
Pagination168 - 175
Date Published1967/12/01/
ISBN Number0004-3249
AbstractStudents of medieval Christian art are all too familiar with Last Judgment scenes on the tympana of medieval Gothic cathedrals. The tympanum over the west portal of Bourges Cathedral is a good example in its awesome and dramatic depiction of the fate which awaited every Christian in the world to come. At the summit, Christ is seen enthroned on the seat of judgment, surrounded by angels, St. John and the Virgin. At the bottom, the resurrected dead rise from their tombs to appear before their judge. Below Christ is the chief actor in the drama of Judgment—St. Michael. With a balance suspended from his hand, he carefully weighs the deeds of every Christian to determine which soul is to be eternally damned to the tortures of hell on the left, and which is to enjoy the rewards of eternal bliss in paradise on the right. Such Christian representations need little explanation, but were I to ask how medieval Jewish art conceived the afterlife, my question might be met with some surprise, since it is common to find stereotyped notions which would deny the very existence of art among Jews. Despite, however, the supposed strictures imposed by the so-called Second Commandment, we shall see that medieval Jews, no less than Christians, gave visual expression to their predominant concern—salvation in the world to come. Living as a religio-ethnic minority in a medieval Christian environment, the Jews, as might be expected, adopted the prevailing Christian artistic styles in order to convey their own unique messianic traditions and hopes. Eminently symbolic, their forms, like those of contemporary Christian art, were almost always conceived as the vehicles of deep spiritual meaning.