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The passion, the jews, and the crisis of the individual on the Naumburg west choir screen

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Chapter Summary

Marking the boundary of nave and choir, respective domains of laity and clergy in medieval churches, the Gothic choir screen at once reinforced social distinctions and provided a stable, unifying focus during liturgical rituals. This chapter concentrates on the portrayal of Jewish men in the Passion narrative on the finest thirteenth-century choir screen to have survived in situ: the Westlettner of Naumburg Cathedral, fashioned around 1250 by a group of sculptors previously responsible for the (now destroyed) choir screen at the metropolitan cathedral of Mainz. The stone reliefs at Naumburg, carved with exceptional verve and composed with unusual dramatic force, have long been extolled as embodiments of the “new individualism” characteristic of high medieval intellectual culture. For all their seeming spontaneity and naturalism, the figures’ social identities are consistently fixed, and thus their degree of individualism checked through costume elements, bodily comportment, and other material details.

Keywords: Gothic choir screen; medieval churches; naturalism; Naumburg Cathedral; Westlettner

10.1163/ej.9789004151659.i-574.38
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