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Journal Article

Review: A New Orientalism?: L'hostie profanée: Histoire d'une fiction théologique by Jean-Louis Schefer

Reviewed Work: L'hostie profanée: Histoire d'une fiction théologique by Jean-Louis Schefer
Review by: Stephen Bann
History and Theory
Vol. 49, No. 1 (Feb., 2010), pp. 130-138
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25621457
Page Count: 9
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A New Orientalism?
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Abstract

Jean-Louis Schefer's study takes as its point of departure Uccello's predella, Profanation of the Host. The painting in question has generally been interpreted within the context of medieval anti-Semitism. However, Schefer argues that the meaning of the work, and of numerous other representations of this particular miracle, must be referred ultimately to the codification by Charlemagne of the dogma of the Real Presence. Uccello's painting in effect makes manifest the requirement that the profaned host should reveal its nature through the gushing of blood. This also involves a political significance, since the Carolingian theology organized around the consecrated host stands in direct opposition to the Byzantine theology of the icon. Schefer's argument leads him to make a thorough investigation not only of the many iconographic precedents, but also of some key Latin texts such as the Libri Carolini, which are published in a French translation. It also advances a methodology that is strikingly at variance with some of the more simple-minded attempts of historians to crack the codes of a complex visual tradition. One of its most original aspects is the new light that the overall thesis casts upon extremely well-known texts like The Merchant of Venice and Dracula. Thus the tendency to identify vampirism as an East European phenomenon, already discernible in Western sources in the eighteenth century, is shown to be closely linked to the historical extension of the myth of Profanation of the Host. In exploring the outcomes of this doctrinal split between East and West, Schefer has identified a deep fault-line in post-antique European history whose consequences are far from being understood at the present day.

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