Daniel Leeson: The Judensau in Medieval Art


"I posted the note below in H-ANTIS, and thought that its contents might have some value for eejh, too.

Dan Leeson

Our discussions of the Judensau caused me to do some more work after I saw the stone frieze of the one currently on the exterior wall of a church in Wittemburg.
I thought that the members of this list might find a summary of the pamphlet of
Isaiah Shachar, "The Judensau, A Medieval Anti-Jewish Motif and its History"
(The Warburg Institute of the University of London, 1974) to have some interest.
Before anyone suggests that all the Judensau be taken down, one should understand the magnitude of the task!

There does not seem to have been a standard form of the Judensau, except for an often unclear and undefined connection between Jews and pigs. In some case, a Jew is seen riding on a pig, often reading. In other case a Jew is seen in an embrace of a pig, sometimes inferring some form of copulatory behavior. One or more Jews may be seen underneath the pig, sucking on its teats. These Jews may be young or old. There may be a Jew behind the pig being sprayed with or eating excrement, or another drinking the pig's urine, or another pointing at the pig's rectum. A Jew might be seen kissing the snout of the pig.

Thus, the simple term, "Judensau" does not allow one to conclude on what its specific content might have been, though the general content was all the same; i.e., Jews and pigs in some combination. They vary all over the place, some with combinations of the above descriptions.

Further, until Martin Luther gave what appears to be a very personal interpretation of the meaning of the Judensau of Wittemburg, there was no general understanding of what these things meant, outside of relating a Jew and a pig in some imprecise way. One interpretation might be that the Jews belonged to the sow, the sow to the Jews; i.e., both were examples of an abominable category of beings.

Shachar suggests that the early ones were more an attempt at an ugly joke. It was Luther whose interpretation of the Judensau became explicitly and specifically antisemitic.

The earliest known examples which still survive in the original stone form are from the 13th century and are generally badly weatherworn. Some are not examples of a Judensau because they simply show pigs suckling piglets, and these do not appear to have any Jewish significance. In general, unless one is familiar with medieval Jewish dress, particularly the Jewish hat, few of these Judensau statues appear to have any relation to Jews; that is, if one knows nothing about the Judensau, it would be difficult to relate these things to medieval antisemitic art.

All the examples mentioned were in existence in 1974 and all were photographed at that time. I presume that most are still extant. Those mentioned in the literature but no longer extant are described at the end.

The earliest example of a Judensau dates from 1230 and is on a column at the Cathedral of Brandenburg.

In the Marienkirche at Lemgo there is a frieze of a man in a Jewish hat embracing a pig, not suckling from it. The embrace has obscene connotations.

In Xanten, and dating from 1263, there are two sculptured figures of Mary and Elizabeth. The sculpture beneath Mary depicts a half-naked Jew, a pig, and a small monster.

In Eberswalde, a crude representation of a Jew being kissed by a sow is carved in terracotta. The church dates from 1284.

In Wimpfen, a Jew wearing a pointed hat, pushes away a piglet so that he may suck. The pig takes the form of a gargoyle and acts as a gutterspout.

In Magdeburg, a carved frieze on the Ernestine Chapel (formerly theatrium of Magdeburg Cathedral), shows two Jews and a sow

In Heiligenstadt, on the Chapel of St. Anne next to the Marienkirche Is a fragment of a Judensau, now broken and badly damaged, that dates to approximately 1300.

In Cologne, one Judensau is carved on a wing of one of the choir stalls in Cologne cathedral. It dates from ca. 1322. In Metz, a Judensau is found in the Chapelle du Mont-Carmel in Metz's cathedral and is dated to the first third of the 14th century. In Regensburg, a group of three Jews with a sow appears on the south wall of Regensburg Cathedral, seven meters above ground and partially mutilated. (I add that the Jews of Regensburg were reasonably well treated, particularly during the Rindfleisch riots of 1298, and during the time of the black death, though they were expelled in 1519.)

In Uppsala a Judensau appears on the Cathedral.

In Gniezno, Poland, at the Olszowski Chapel is a Judensau.

In Colmar, on the Minster of St. Martin are two examples of the Judensau, one on the west facade and the other on the south-east corner of the choir.

A Judensau appears on the choir stalls in the Cathedral at Nordhausen.

In Wittenberg is the Judensau whose picture was posted previously on this list and below which there is now a contemporary tablet put in place after 1976 to remind the observer of the wickedness of the carving and the negative value it played in the treatment of Jews. What is particularly important about this Judensau is the fact that Martin Luther gave an antisemitic interpretation of its meaning in 1543. Butsince this was written 200 years after the carving of the scene, his ugly comments do not shed light on the original meaning of the relief. The scene has a two-line inscription above it which reads "Rabini SchemHaMphoras" (or "The Rabbis expound the name of God") but this text is inspired by Luther's comments and not by the original purpose of the statue which is, like many Judensau, unknown. [It is when I read such things about Luther, that I become discouraged at the elevated position he has achieved in Christian theological circles; i.e., not only as an iconoclast against Catholicism but as a man of supposedly great virtue.]

The earliest 15th century Judensau is found on the north wing of the choir stalls in Erfurt Cathedral and is dated to between 1400 and 1410.

A Judensau is carved on the choir stalls of the Minster of Basle.

Woodcuts used to disseminate the Judensau motif were probably first produced in the first half of the 15th century. A large (27 cm by 42cm) and particularly disgusting example is found on plate 30 of Shachar's book, his description of which is worth noting here: "As it stands, the woodcut is a single big anti-Jewish joke centered on associating the Jews, in an intimate and obscene manner, with the animal they most abhor. The inscriptions make the joke quite explicit. The caption reads: 'This is why we do not eat roast pork. And thus we are lustful and our breath stinks.' While one Jew [on the woodcut],probably the religious teacher, pronounces the exhortation 'This we should not forget -- swine's flesh we must not eat,' the other elderly man invites 'all the Jews' to 'behold what came to pass between us and the sow.' Most of the youngsters [shown sucking at the sow's teats] take the part of sucking piglets, one calls the sow 'our mother' and another encourages his brother to suck the tail so as to uncover the rectum. The tenor of the joke is profane and, while there are no allusions to Judaism as such, the Jews are explicitly the target."

A Judensau stone relief is on a buttress on the north-east side of the choir of the Nikolaikirche in Zerbst and dates from ca. 1446.

A relief of a Judensau is on the southern aisle of the church at Heilsbronn.

A Judensau is on the gate of the castle at Cadolzburg and is next to the coats of arms of the castle's owners, the Hohenzollern of Nuremberg. The extremely weathered stone relief is still referred to by the inhabitants of Cadolzburg as "die Judensau," despite the fact that the specific contents are extremely difficult to make out.

A stone relief Judensau from the 15th century is on the corner of a private house in Spalt on Herrengasse.

A misericord in the choir stall of Notre Dame in Aerschot, Belgium is animage of a Jew riding backwards on an animal of some sort. This may bederivative of the Judensau images.

Another former example of a Judensau originally on a private house, but now in the Stadtmuseum at Wiener Neustadt in Austria, was originally at number 16 Hauptplatz in Wiener Neustadt, the house of a patrician family named Haiden.

Examples of Judensau which no longer exist today are those of the Cathedral at Freising, the Franciscan church in Bratislava, and the one on the town hall of the city of Salzburg, this last one having been removed in 1785 and probably because of the issuance in 1782 by Emperor Joseph II (the man depicted in Amadeus as a bumbling incompetent) of an edict of toleration with respect to the Jews of Austria. Another no longer extant Judensau was said to be on the entrance gate to the street "hinter der Darre" in the village of Aschersleben. An example of a now, no-longer extant Judensau on a private home was the one in Kelheim near Regensburg, but it disappeared at the end of World War II. Photographic reproductions of it exist. Finally, the most extensive, and no longer existing Judensau, was found in Frankfurt and was a wall painting with a variety of scenes, almost every one of which displaed Jews and pigs in some connection to each other. The original material, was displayed from the late 15th century to the early 19th next to a painting of the Crucifixion, in the public passage of the Old Bruckenturm, one of the busiest of passages in Frankfurt. The Old Bruckenturm was demolished in1801 but broadsheets, glass paintings, engravings, etchings, and other forms exist to show its contents.

It is particularly interesting to note that many Judensau were not thereto be seen by Jews. Their presence in the choir stalls or in other interior locations of various churches would seem to imply that their existence was to be seen by Christians."

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