48 pages of illustrations in color throughout.
“Jean Louis Schefer is one of the leading critics of visual culture in Europe today, and probably the most original: he has consistently produced texts as unpredictable as they are brilliant.” —Norman Bryson
In this landmark examination, art scholar Schefer returns to a subject that has haunted him since his early-career study on Uccello: the artist’s celebrated predella in Urbino, The Miracle of the Profaned Host. The story depicted is simple: a Jewish usurer requests, of a woman unable to repay him, a consecrated host, which he proceeds to stab, cut, and boil. The host bleeds, and for his sacrilege the Jew is buried alive with the Talmud. Schefer takes this work as the starting point for a semiotic analysis of the communion ritual in its representations from Byzantium to the Middle Ages, placing it at the crux of how theological thought was put to the establishment of political order.
In line with his meditations on the spectator’s role and the interaction with the image, Schefer unravels a skein of implications from many variations on a single story: historical, textual, doctrinal, monetary, metaphorical, political—and even autobiographical and fanciful, calling on St. Augustine and Dracula alike. As amply documented as it is philosophically radical, Schefer’s book not only traces the predella story’s through a wealth of lavish illustrations, but also features esoteric texts translated for the first time from Latin, Italian, and German, including the Libri Carolini, a Carolingian legislation of signs and images. Schefer’s history illuminates the Christian West’s attempt to reason the mystery and miracle of the Eucharist and expunge from it all taint of the Oriental.