Online lecture: ‘The Limits of Alterity in Ashkenazic Manuscripts’, Professor Elina Gertsman, 26 January 2022, 5pm (GMT)

The Research Forum at The Courtauld is delighted to host the online lecture ‘The Limits of Alterity in Ashkenazic Manuscripts’, presented by Professor Elina Gertsman, on 26 January 2022 between 5pm and 6.30pm GMT.

Professor Gertsman’s paper focuses on the woefully understudied Hammelburg Mahzor (Darmstadt, HLH Cod. Or. 13), a Jewish festival book completed in Lower Franconia in the middle of the fourteenth century. The book’s most remarkable feature is perhaps the inclusion of carefully curated zoocephalic, or theriomorphic, figures: humans with beastly and bestial heads. By virtue of their alterity, the zoocephali call attention to themselves with emphatic force. The purpose of this talk is to explore the semiotics and phenomenology of this alterity, and to suggest that its presence lies at the intersection of language, philosophy, poetry, and history.

In the Hammelburg Mahzor this visual idiom also signals distinction, albeit in a way that, conspicuously, collapses temporalities, tests the limits of alterity, and makes an argument about likeness and difference. By foregrounding linguistic elisions between words, images, and the celebrants, such an idiom establishes visceral connections with the community of the book’s users. Ultimately, theriomorphs stand as a fitting metaphor for medieval Jewish art as it has been viewed in mainstream scholarship.

Elina Gertsman is Professor of Medieval Art at Case Western Reserve University. In addition to numerous articles, she has authored The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages: Image, Text, Performance (2010); Worlds Within: Opening the Medieval Shrine Madonna (2015); The Middle Ages in 50 Objects (with Barbara H. Rosenwein); and The Absent Image: Lacunae in Medieval Books (2021). She has also edited a number of books, including Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts (2008); Crying in the Middle Ages: Tears of History (2011); Thresholds of Medieval Visual Culture Liminal Spaces (2012, with Jill Stevenson); Myth and Mystique: Cleveland’s Gothic Table Fountain (2016, with Stephen Fliegel); and Abstraction and Medieval Art: Beyond the Ornament (2021). Her work has been supported by the Guggenheim, Kress, and Mellon Foundations as well as by the American Council for Learned Societies.

The lecture is free, but reservation is required here.

The lecture has been organised by Dr Tom Nickson (The Courtauld).

Image: Zoocephalic Mattityahu The Hammelburg Mahzor, Hammelburg, 1347-1348. Darmstadt, HLH Cod. Or. 13, fol. 33r.


Published by Dr Julia Faiers

Julia Faiers received her PhD from the University of St Andrews in 2021. She wrote her thesis on the art patronage of Louis d’Amboise, bishop of Albi from 1474 to 1503, under the supervision of Professor Kathryn Rudy. Her postdoctoral research includes the nineteenth-century reception of medieval art and architecture, and late-medieval female art patronage in France. Julia gained a First Class Honours degree in art history at the University of St Andrews (1995). She won a British Academy Award to study for her MA in German Expressionism at The Courtauld under the supervision of Dr Shulamith Behr (1997), and spent almost twenty years working as a journalist before returning to academia in 2016.

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