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Behind the Image

Understanding the Old Testament in Medieval Art

Series:

Judith A. Kidd

Scenes and characters from the Old Testament appear frequently in Western medieval art, yet the study of their significance is a neglected area of iconography. A common literature for both Jews and Christians, the Hebrew Scriptures had an especially broad appeal for the Church of the Middle Ages. Many sections of medieval society identified with the Hebrews of the Old Testament and sought from them direct models for leadership, moral behaviour and even art itself. Most of the imagery in medieval art derived from close study of the biblical texts and from the retelling of these stories in contemporary poetry and drama.
This interdisciplinary study of art history and theology takes a thematic approach to the ways in which the Church drew on the ancient texts, focusing on the topics precedent, word, time, typology and synagogue. The introduction given here to the vast scholarly and literary hinterland behind the art, with insights into the thought processes from which the images emerged, not only brings fresh perspectives to specific sculptures, wall paintings, stained glass and liturgical objects, but facilitates a better understanding of Old Testament iconography wherever it is encountered.

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Chapter 5 Typology II

Extract

Typology was to achieve a final f lowering in the late Middle Ages. The rich sources of types, with their extended possibilities when supported by verses, continued to of fer a system which ref lected the unity of Scripture and was f lexible in its application. When the religious mood in parts of Europe was moving towards an emphasis on private devotion and the printing presses were transforming the way in which the Bible could reach out more directly to the laity, typology adapted to the shifting scene. There were two works in particular, the block-books of the Mirror of Man’s Salvation and the Bible of the Poor, which made typological schemes more widely accessible by bringing together, into single volumes, many of the types previously known from monumental or liturgical art and from the pages of manuscripts previ- ously confined to monastic libraries, schools and universities. The Bible of the Poor, especially, is now accessible in facsimile editions and published with translation of the Latin quotations and commentary.1 The word typology has today gained currency in other ways. Apart from the visual correspondences of form, line and colour echoing each other in images set side by side, the term has sometimes been used of a single figure whose features might be drawn in such a way as to present a simili- tude to another person. Thus the figure of Daniel in a manuscript now in Dijon, in the initial to the commentary by Jerome on the biblical book of...

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