Mitchell B. Merback


Gilman 172


My research and writing centers on German, Netherlandish, and Central European art from circa 1300–1600, and has orbited around a number of big themes in European cultural history: criminal justice and public spectacle; pilgrimage and popular religion; relations between Christian and Jews; religious dissent and reform; embodied practices of the self and early modern subjectivity. An ongoing preoccupation has been the phenomenology of the Christian devotional image, how it works to generate meaning and experience within specific contexts of use.

My first book, The Thief the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (London and Chicago, 1999), focused on the intersections of late medieval Crucifixion imagery and the rituals of criminal justice, and considered the impact these dramas of redemptive suffering had on the sensibilities of contemporary spectators. The cultural history of pain-expressions and pain-experiences, an inherently interdisciplinary topic, continues to interest me.

More recently, Pilgrimage and Pogrom: Violence, Memory and Visual Culture at the Host-Miracle Shrines of Germany and Austria (Chicago, 2013), brought to fruition a decade-long engagement with the changing dynamic of Jewish-Christian relations in the German empire between the Fourth Lateran Council and the Reformation. Focusing on the role played by anti-Jewish myths, accusations, and persecutions in the formation of pilgrimage shrines dedicated to the Holy Blood (Heilig Blut), I devote close attention to the reverberations of intergroup conflict and persecutory mythmaking throughout the culture of associational worship we call pilgrimage. Another contribution to understanding art's multivalent roles in the Christian-Jewish encounter is a volume I edited in 2008, Beyond the Yellow Badge: Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism in Medieval and Early Modern Visual Culture (Brill, 2008).

Currently I am at work on several projects. Foremost among them is Recognitions: Visual Poetics and Narrative Experience in Medieval and Renaissance Art, a set of interlinked investigations into the dynamics of disclosure and discovery, both as a narrative theme and a phenomenological metatheme of the Christian image before 1600. Also in development is Radical German Renaissance: Art, Dissent, and Freedom in the Era of Reform, which revisits the careers of Sebald and Barthel Beham, Nuremberg artists whose lives intersected in fateful ways with the sectarian movements unleashed during the early Reformation. Several recent publications and lectures have been devoted to Sebald Beham's early graphics. In addition I have been publishing and lecturing on Hans Burgkmair the Elder, the therapeutic dimensions of Man of Sorrows iconography, changing aspects of Works of Mercy imagery, and Albrecht Dürer's most famous engraving, Melencolia I.

Before coming to Johns Hopkins in 2008 I taught at DePauw University. Since my arrival, I have developed new courses in Dutch and Flemish Painting, Passion Iconography, Art and Medicine, Mirror Reflections from Van Eyck to Velázquez, and the Methodologies of Art History, as well as graduate seminars on the altarpiece as a functional genre, Dürer and Grünewald, Man of Sorrows imagery, Renaissance Engravings, Therapies of Art and Literature, and the Art and Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage.

Selected Projects

Pilgrimage and Pogrom: Violence, Memory, and Visual Culture at the Host-Miracle Shrines of Germany and Austria (Chicago, 2013).

"Nobody Dares: Freedom, Dissent, Self-Knowing and other Possibilities in Sebald Beham's Impossible," Renaissance Quarterly 63, no. 4 (Winter 2010): 1037-1105.

The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (Chicago, 1999).

“Fount of Mercy, City of Blood: Cultic Anti-Judaism and the Pulkau Passion Altarpiece,” Art Bulletin 87, no. 4 (Dec. 2005): 589-642.

Beyond the Yellow Badge: New Approaches to Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism in Medieval and Early Modern Visual Culture, ed. Mitchell Merback (Brill, 2007).

Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism, ed. Herbert Kessler and David Nirenberg (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

"Pro remedio animae: Works of Mercy as Therapeutic Genre," in Peiraikos' Erben: Die Genese der Genremalerei bis 1500, ed. Birgit Ulrike Münch and Jürgen Müller (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2015), 97-124.

"Recognitions: Theme and Metatheme in Hans Burgkmair the Elder's Santa Croce in Gerusalemme of 1504," Art Bulletin 96, no. 3 (Sept. 2014): 288-318.

"The Man of Sorrows in Northern Europe: Ritual Metaphor and Therapeutic Exchange," in New Perspectives on the Man of Sorrows, ed. Catherine R. Puglisi and William L. Barcham (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications / Western Michigan University, 2013), 77-116.