The Center for Medieval and Rennaissance Studies presents a lecture by David Areford
Most late medieval images of the child Jesus present him with clues that make explicit the unusual nature of his being and his sacrificial mission. The interpretive framework most often applied to such depictions is the so-called Proleptic Passion, that is, the anachronistic manifestation of Christ’s death in scenes of his infancy – a conflation of the beginning and end of his human life. This paper examines several fifteenth-century prints of the Christ Child that include references to the Passion, ranging from subtle to overt: a seemingly innocent pose of sleep, the presence of the Arma Christi (usually the cross, the lance, or the crown of thorns), or even the wounds of the crucifixion. Especially fascinating is a little-known German woodcut of the Christ Child holding the sudarium, the cloth miraculously imprinted with the face of his adult self on the way to Calvary. Interpreted counter to the dominate model of the Proleptic Passion, this modest print proves to be a nuanced commentary on time and knowledge – both earthly and divine. Instead of simply collapsing time in a forward direction (present to future), the image also moves backward (present to past), as well as in both directions simultaneously. In the logic of the pictorial situation, the Christ Child unfurls his own image and thus reenacts the dynamics of the Incarnation, revealing his power (and identity) not only as Savior but also as Creator, as God the Father.
David S. Areford is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of The Art of Empathy: The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion (2013) and The Viewer and the Printed Image in Late Medieval Europe (2010). He is coauthor of Origins of European Printmaking: Fifteenth-Century Woodcuts and Their Public (2005); and coeditor of Excavating the Medieval Image: Manuscripts, Artists, Audiences (2004). He has published articles in Studies in Iconography and chapters in From Minor to Major: The Minor Arts in Medieval Art History (2012), The Woodcut in Fifteenth-Century Europe (2009), and The Broken Body: Passion Devotion in Late-Medieval Culture (1998). His current book project is Strict Beauty: Sol LeWitt Prints.