(NCR) Medieval art is relatable today, even out of context

four-lobed reliquary

Detail of four-lobed reliquary: “St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata,” Limoges, France, c. 1228-30, champlevé enamel (Courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art/Musée national du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny/Jean-Gilles Berizzi)


My article “Medieval art is relatable today, even out of context” appears in National Catholic Reporter.

Here’s a selection:

“Given the increasing misappropriation of medieval crusader rhetoric by American white supremacists and the constant misinterpretation of movements like [the Islamic State] as ‘medieval,’ just to name two examples, our work is more important than ever,” she said. “As scholars who grapple with the complex, multivalent and multicultural Middle Ages, it is incumbent on us to work to set the record straight.”

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(Forward) How One Word Changed The Course Of World War II

My article “How One Word Changed The Course Of World War II,” about two new acquisitions at the International Museum of World War II in Natick, Mass., appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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(Forward) What Do You Do When You Come Face To Face With The Spanish Inquisition?

My article “What Do You Do When You Come Face To Face With The Spanish Inquisition?” — about paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid and the Harvard Art Museums — appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

Here’s the lede:

“Nobody,” the Monty Python skit goes, “expects the Spanish Inquisition,” and the same goes for visitors to the Prado Museum in Madrid. Turning a corner on the second floor, viewers come face-to-face with Emilio Sala Francés’ 1889 painting “The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.”

Expulsion of the Jews. Emilio Salas

The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain (in the year 1492). Emilio Sala. 1889. Oil on canvas. Madrid, Prado Museum. (Click to enlarge)

In the picture, a lavishly-dressed Jewish emissary has laid a treasure chest at the feet of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sit enthroned beneath a canopy bearing their motto, “Tanto Monta.” Just as it’s impossible for viewers to connect with the messenger — his back is turned, and it’s easy to get lost in the folds of his lavish attire — his plea to prevent his people’s expulsion falls flat.

All eyes, save the apparently-napping queen’s, are on the modestly-attired monk Tomás de Torquemada, who dramatically casts a crucifix on the box. The message is clear from Spain’s first grand inquisitor, whose name Britannica notes “has become synonymous with the Christian Inquisition’s horror, religious bigotry, and cruel fanaticism.” If the Catholic monarchs accept this Jewish blood money, they might as well be Judas selling Jesus out to the Romans.

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(Forward) Jewish Philanthropist Establishes Kansas City As Cultural Mecca

Henry Bloch

Henry Bloch, 94, co-founder of H&R Block, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Photo: Menachem Wecker


My article “Jewish Philanthropist Establishes Kansas City As Cultural Mecca,” which draws upon interviews with Henry Bloch, 94, co-founder (and the ‘H’ in) H&R Block, about the new wing named for him at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum, appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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(NCR) At new Smithsonian African-American history and culture museum, Catholic stories emerge

NMAAHC

Interior of National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Photo: Menachem Wecker


My article “At new Smithsonian African-American history and culture museum, Catholic stories emerge” appears in National Catholic Reporter.

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(Forward) Why Was This Italian Artist So Interested in Painting Synagogues?

Alessandro Magnasco. Interior of a Synagogue.

Alessandro Magnasco. Interior of a Synagogue. C. 1725-35. Cleveland Museum of Art


My article “Why Was This Italian Artist So Interested in Painting Synagogues?” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward. Here’s the lede:

Nearly 275 years after Alessandro Magnasco’s death, experts still aren’t sure what to make of his work — particularly four paintings of synagogues.

Known as il Lissandrino, Magnasco was born 350 years ago Feb. 4th. He wasn’t Jewish, but synagogues were among his most frequent subjects, notes the Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns “Interior of a Synagogue” (c. 1725-35). The museum describes the work as “mystical, dark, and imaginative,” adding that the artist likely viewed Jews as outsiders. “Magnasco’s personal views on Judaism in Italy remain unknown,” it states.

Some 350 miles west, the Art Institute of Chicago owns Magnasco’s “The Synagogue” (1725-35). A third Magnasco synagogue resides in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Here, a rabbi covers his head with a tallit and officiates from within a circle of candles, which may be a reflection of Magnasco’s lack of experience with synagogue services, though some scholars insist he would have been familiar with the Livorno synagogue.

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(NCR) Two painters, two styles, one city: Seville takes a lead in cosmopolitan 17th-century art

Three Immaculate Conceptions Photo by Nachama Soloveichik

Immaculate conceptions by Diego Velázquez and by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (right). Photo: Nachama Soloveichik


My article “Two painters, two styles, one city: Seville takes a lead in cosmopolitan 17th-century art” appears in National Catholic Reporter.

Here’s the lede:

Visitors to Santa María de la Sede, Seville’s cathedral and the world’s third largest church, need to peer over the baptismal font from behind a stanchion to glimpse Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s dimly lit “Vision of St. Anthony of Padua” (1656).
The painting still bears the scars of a late 1874 theft, in which thieves cut off the bottom right corner of the canvas — where St. Anthony kneels — and sold it. About a year later, an antique dealer in New York recognized the re-stretched canvas, purchased it and turned it over to the Spanish consulate. It returned to Seville after Prado Museum conservators restored it.

“That story needed to have this end, because San Antonio is the one who finds everything that we lose,” said guide Elisa Simon, on a tour of the cathedral. “If you lose something, you don’t have to search for it. You pray to San Antonio, and it comes back.”

Standing before the painting, Simon calls attention to the obvious elements: the saint’s attributes (a lily vase, open Bible and the Christ Child), as well as the flying putti circumscribed by clouds. But she also notes a less apparent element: the interior design.

“This is the typical floor that we have in Seville,” Simon said. “It is a convention.”

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(Forward) Do We All Have an Inner Gandhi — and a Hitler Too?

Jitish Kallat Covering Letter

Jitish Kallat. Covering Letter. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article, “Do We All Have an Inner Gandhi — and a Hitler Too?” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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Writing in the LA Review of Books, S. Brent Plate kindly observes the following:

Critics and journalists rarely diverge from the secular gaze when it comes to using art and spirit in the same sentence. Apart from Holland Cotter’s usually astute observations in The New York Times, and a handful of others such as David Van Biema and Menachem Wecker, few critics get the variety of ways artists engage religious traditions, or, what’s more, the ways art can become religious above and beyond its overt symbolism — in other words, the way people use art. Reviews of exhibitions and artists’ retrospectives often go out of their way to dismiss, willfully ignore, or downplay the clear religious dimensions.

The full article, titled “Reports of the Death of Religious Art Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” appears here.

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(National Review) A Smithsonian Gift Shop Sells Anti-Trump and Pro-Hillary Paper Dolls

NMAH Trump

The NMAH bookstore. Photo: Menachem Wecker


My article “A Smithsonian Gift Shop Sells Anti-Trump and Pro-Hillary Paper Dolls” appears in National Review.

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