A Conflation of Characters
The Portrayal of Aristotle and Averroës as Jews in a Venetian Incunabulum
This article examines the illustrations on the frontispieces of a two-volume incunabulum printed in Venice in 1483 in which the artist Girolamo da Cremona represented Averroës, Aristotle and other philosophers as Jews. Girolamo had trained in Andrea Mantegna’s shop and by the late Quattrocento had achieved the reputation as the best illustrator working all’antica. Stylistically, Girolamo’s miniatures are a clear indication of the level of interest towards classical art of its patron and, indeed, of all well-educated Venetian society. However, while visually expressing the latest Renaissance trends, Girolamo’s scenes contain also evidence of the opposition towards Aristotelian philosophy on the part of the Dominican and Observant Franciscans. By conflating Classical Greek and other philosophers (despicable pagans according to the Dominicans) into Jews, Girolamo clearly expressed both the common perceptual ambivalence towards classical philosophy as well as the ongoing struggle for supremacy between faith and reason. The artist's residence in cities with a numerous Jewish population and, particularly, his experience in Venice where Jews were essential participants in the early publishing enterprises would have rendered him familiar with their appearance. For Girolamo and, indeed, even for most well educated Christians, Jews (like the Muslim and Greek philosophers) represented both the epitome of scholarship as well as the error of denying the “true” faith.
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