Disputing Jewish and Christian Identities in Nineteenth Century Paintings.
This project will investigate the construction of Jewish and Christian identities in the painting “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple” (1860) by William Holman Hunt and other relevant works.
The Jewish nature of “The Finding” has been almost entirely overlooked to date. It has not been examined within the field of Jewish Studies and the attention that it has received within art-historical discourse has focused upon the Christian message offered by the artist and his associates.
The subject of “The Finding” depicts the New Testament scene describing Jesus in discussion with elders in the Temple which is known as “The Disputation”. Assumed to portray a generalised theological dispute between Christianity and Judaism, it also references scholarly disputations, regarded as determinants of truth within the developing academy.
I will draw upon themes foregrounded in the work, Orientalism, Protestantism, Jewish and Christian identities, race and religion. I will examine 19thC philosophies of Realism which dominated art (and literature). I will investigate a link between Realism and the growing emphasis upon empirical scientific notions of truth and emerging racial discourses.
My project will be situated within an art historical field concerned with representing Biblical themes and representations of Jews in painting as a means of situating the investigation within a wider discursive field of 19th century constructions of Jewishness.
I will draw upon Linda Nochlin, Tamar Garb and Bryan Cheyette’s work which stresses the instability of meaning in modern literary constructions of Jewish identity. The religious identity of the artist becomes relevant. E.g., Max Liebermann’s Disputation scene provoked a national scandal in Germany. I will consider the impact of both Jewish and non-Jewish practitioners, English and German contexts.
Images of Jews, especially when coded as Jews, are never neutral. As Nirenberg asserts, the Jews and Judaism of Christian art are formed from figures of Christian thought, not the Judaism as experienced by actual, living Jewish people.
The importance of the nineteenth century for the development of western European thought continues to be relevant. Undercurrent notions of progress, modernity, and objective science permeate much in the modern world and require interrogation.
I would seek to situate The Finding as one of many Disputation paintings. This would enable me to compare Max Liebermann’s Disputation with Hunt’s, as well as other relevant works by Jewish and non-Jewish artists. This component would enable an analysis of Christian portrayals of Jews in art, and to address issues of identity and identification. The wider discourse surrounding Disputations and representations of Jews in painting will be relevant here. Artists address this discourse even if not aware of all relevant works or artists.
A component on what I will designate the Protestant Aesthetic will allow me to augment current literature by incorporating notions of realism and orientalism. I will draw upon recent literature on English Protestant thought on “Jerusalem”, and its identification with “England” and the utilisation of Jewishness to forge a Christian identity.
I expect to conclude with the identification of a discourse, observable within painting, concerning a contested set of ideas concerning religious and racial identities within Jewish-Christian relations. This will make the case for the consideration of, and concentrated focus upon, one complex painting as a valid object for study within the fields of both Jewish Studies and Art History.
Research Degree: PhD, Full-time
Research Centre: Manchester School of Art Research Centre (MSARC)