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Artistic Depictions of Jews in Early Modern Europe
The early modern period—spanning roughly from the late fifteenth through the late eighteenth centuries—is distinguished by several remarkable developments that are often associated with the modern world: it was an age of scientific discoveries, of the unprecedented dissemination of ideas through the newly-invented printing press, of the emergence of new national political structures, and of the breakdown of traditional sources of authority. Jews and Christians alike were transformed by these dramatic changes. Jews traveled and migrated more frequently and farther than ever before; boldly challenged the authority of their rabbis; used the press to spread Hebrew books, new and old, to ever wider-audiences; and mingled with Christians and others in unforeseen ways. In the 2014 Penn Lectures in Judaic Studies, Moving into Modernity: The Shaping of Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe, Katz Center fellows will explore many different aspects of this fascinating period.
Visual depictions of Jews in early modern Europe attracted artists of Jewish origin in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as they looked for figures to emulate and to express their own personal vicissitudes. This lecture will focus on an array of figures (e.g., Spinoza, Uriel da Costa, Moses Mendelssohn) depicted in diverse situations by some of these later artists (e.g., Antokolskii, Gottlieb, Hirszenberg, and Liebermann) and discuss how their portrayals offer a historical interpretation in a visual mode.
Richard I. Cohen is the Paulette and Claude Kelman Chair in French Jewry Studies and the head of the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His books include The Burden of Conscience: French-Jewish Leadership during the Holocaust (1987), and Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (1998), which received the Arnold Wischnitzer Prize for best book in Jewish history. This year at the Katz Center he is studying visual representations of Jewish figures and the distinctive penetration of visual images into Jewish life in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.