Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Demoralized

Went to the New York Public Library with a medievalist friend today to look at a facsimile of a famous twelfth-century Bible Moralisée from Vienna. I'm looking for an image from such a Bible for my Job book, since it makes typology inescapably and beautifully clear: often the relationship of type to antitype is rendered clear by a visual echo in the layout of the scenes. There's also text spelling things out. For instance, in this section of Leviticus above an episode of bread-baking is revealed really to be about the bread of life. (The type and antitype are horizontally pairs. This key starts in the second row.
Yeah, yeah - we remember that from Gregory the Great. Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the key to everything. But as you go on to the various dietary rules, the "moralized Bible" sounds other notes. (Here the pairings are vertical: top right and the one below; top left and the one below it; third down the left side and the one below it; etc.)
 
All those prescribed and proscribed animals and birds and fish turn out to refer to a fixed set of characters, miscreants, usurers, Jews, women.
Dreary monotony of the usual suspects! After looking through a few more pages, we were depressed and disgusted. Even as the art work exquisitely realized stories and relationships (often in interpretively wildly adventurous ways), the textual interpretation hollowed them out and filled them with the a blandly hateful content. It was like taking a beautiful multi-colored work and erasing the colors, replacing them with the numbers of a color-by-number coloring book for which you need no more than the smallest box of crayons.

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