2023-2024 Jewish Visual Cultures
Studies of visual imagination in Jewish life have exploded in recent years. From the growth of Jewish museums throughout the USA and Europe to the founding of new journals devoted to Jewish art, Jewish visual culture has engaged broad audiences. Scholarly and popular studies, exhibitions and films, have enlightened us on a range of themes in various periods, from the medieval past to the present day. In diverse formats they depict the way Jews and Jewish culture and religion were seen, extending our understanding of the intricate relations between Jews and others. How these portrayals framed images and understanding of Jewish life have added important dimensions to the contexts of Jewish life as a minority throughout history and recently as a majority.
This theme year at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies recognizes historical precedents even as it builds upon and departs from them. In the 19th century Jews commissioned and collected art; patronized art and institutions that collected art; served as benefactors of archaeological missions and excavations; and dealt commercially in art of different cultures. Individual, universalist, and integrationist orientations drove Jews’ engagement with art. But Jewish art, in all its manifestations, seldom drew their interest and they had little knowledge of what constituted the Jewish visual world prior to the 19th century. Oblivious to what had been produced for centuries in the realm of monuments, manuscripts, synagogue architecture, ephemera, ceremonial art (Judaica), printed books, drawings, and fabrics, they and others remained aloof from how visual culture occupied a significant place in Jewish historical development.
By the 21st century, these attitudes and assumptions had changed radically.
The Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies seeks to explore many facets of Jewish visual imagination. How did Jewish experiences with and attitudes toward the visual intersect with those of the majority populations, and with minority populations in Israel? How did Jewish visuality challenge or coexist with the hallmark of Jewish culture – the literary text? How does visual culture broaden the Jewish narrative? The Frankel Institute theme year on Jewish visual cultures will address ….