Marc Michael Epstein, Ph. D., Professor of Religion and Visual Culture on the Mattie M. Paschall Davis and Norman Davis Chair, Vassar College
In any given work of art, the view of the object at rest is a snapshot of the extant state of theological and political affairs surrounding a given image. But as soon as we notice that ensuing action is implied, that the static image we are witnessing is but a single moment in a kinetic continuum, it becomes clear that the status quo of political and theological meaning may also hint at or imply a potential or consequence that remains hidden when we merely look at the image as it is frozen in time. When we take such a view, dissident or questionably orthodox political and theological messages that are implied (but not articulated) in the image reveal themselves.
Marc Michael Epstein, Professor of Religion and Visual Culture on the Mattie M. Paschall Davis and Norman Davis Chair at Vassar College, was Vassar’s first Director of Jewish Studies. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, received his PhD at Yale University, and did much of his graduate research at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has written on various topics in visual and material culture produced by, for, and about Jews. His book The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination (Yale University Press, 2011) was selected by the London Times Literary Supplement as one of the best books of the year. His more recent book Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Manuscript Illumination (Princeton University Press, 2015)—a magisterial large-format survey of the genre with over 300 illustrations in brilliant digital color—was the winner of the National Jewish Book Award. His work-in-progress—from which this talk is drawn—is titled People of the Image: Jews & Art, and is scheduled for release next year. During the 1980s, Epstein was Director of the Hebrew Books and Manuscripts division of Sotheby’s Judaica department, and continues to serve as consultant to various libraries, auction houses, museums, and private collectors throughout the world.