Seminar on the Twelfth-Century Renaissance: paper given (2001)
The twelfth century was a period of significant development and change in the religious and secular world of Western Europe. One area of transition occurred in depictions of Christ’s crucifixion. In both writing and art, the triumphant living Christ of the early Middle ages, was transformed into the dying, suffering, and yet majestic savior of the twelfth century. This essay examines images and written sources from the fourth to the twelfth centuries, and seeks to determine how the twelfth century renaissance and reformation—based on the discovery of the individual— influenced this evolution. Furthermore, the essay will explore how the increased concern with Christ’s anguish and humanity heightened intolerance and contributed to the persecution of twelfth-century Western European Jews.
An analysis of this shift in the depiction of Christ has many of the same advantages and disadvantages of Penny Schine Gold’s analysis, in The Lady and the Virgin, of twelfth and thirteenth-century artistic representations of the Virgin Mary. As Gold asserts, many obstacles stand in the way of the modern historian when they attempt to interpret medieval imagery. Art, being non-verbal, is seldom accompanied by any literary interpretation, complicating one’s ability to comprehend the deeper meaning, attitudes, and values contained in the image. It is difficult, indeed, to determine how quickly shifts in theological attitudes were transmitted in these art forms.