Artibus et Historiae no. 48 (XXIV)

2003, ISSN 0391-9064

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BARBARA WISCH - Vested Interest: Redressing Jews on Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling

A yellow circular badge, or Jewish signum, was painted by Michelangelo on the left shoulder of Aminadab, an ancestor of Christ located prominently in the lunette above the papal throne. Although previously overlooked, the badge has profound importance. This essay explores the implications of this sign as a quintessential indicator of demeaned status in a society that demarcated Jews by imposing degrading dress codes, legislated their role as moneylenders, and subjected them to humiliating public spectacles. Michelangelo's inclusion of the badge opens new lines of inquiry about iconographic themes in the chapel, his representations of Old Testament personages, and his own attitudes toward the Jewish community. The conflicting discourses discussed in this essay underscore the complexity and deep-seated ambivalence of the role of Jews in Christian theology and society.

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