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Behind the Image

Understanding the Old Testament in Medieval Art


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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Aaron (OT High Priest) 63; represents religious authority 46, 47; rod of, blossoming 169, 175, 176, 177, Fig. 37 Abel 15, 54 Abraham 2, 139; as astronomer 123; decendants of 7–8, 123; meets Melchizedek see Melchizedek, Abraham’s meeting with; and sac- rifice of Isaac 2, 3, 7, 135, 136, 137, 153, 180; with Sarah and Hagar (?) Fig. 41 Acts of Pilate 76 Adam: and blood from crucified Christ 74–5, Fig. 14; body of, retrieved by Noah 74; and cross 74; in Eden 3; outside Eden 72–4, 80, Fig. 13; and Eve, see Eve; creation of Eve from 136, Pl. 3; Fall of, see Fall of Man; rescued from Hell, see Christ, rescues Adam from Hell; as mankind 11–12; redemp- tion of 132–3; with serpent and Eve 74, Pl. 2, Fig. 1, see also Fall of Man; and sin of gluttony 13, 53 Adam and Eve, Life of see Life of Adam and Eve Adam of Abbey Dore: on ecclesiastical art 150, see also Pictor in Carmine ADAM acronym 130 Aelfric, abbot of Eynsham: Anglo-Saxon paraphrase of OT 63; on com- putus 120; Hexateuch 123; and horns of Moses 63, 86 Ahaz: sundial of 122 Alcuin 146 Alfred, King 28 All Saints, East Meon: font 73, 81, Fig. 13 allegory: and exegesis 185–90; Jewish 217 Alpha and Omega: Christ as 119 Alphonsi, Peter 215 Ambrose, St 57; on six days of creation 102 Amesbury Psalter 209 Amiens cathedral 12–13; west front 175–6, Figs...

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