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The Satyr as Prophet: Notes on the “Jewish” Michelangelo

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Focusing on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the essay argues that there existed a Jewish fascination with the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti that was representative not only of a larger German and Jewish Italophilia at the time but also indicative of Jewish aesthetic concerns. Lodged between popular culture and the intellectual quest for an aesthetics that would problematize the figurative image and the classical sense of the beautiful, the Jewish reception of Michelangelo was guided by the themes of terribilita, unfinishedness, and the destruction of form. What emerges is a consistent dialectic of image and anti-image particularly in the writings of Salomon Ludwig Steinheim, Sigmund Freud, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, and Ernst Bloch. But what also emerges is that German Jewish intellectuals entertained a great, though often ambivalent, admiration for the Italian Renaissance and the culture of modern Italy.


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