Monday, January 16, 2017

Diane Owen Hughes: Distinguishing Signs

Hughes begins her study questioning why the Virgin Mary had to have gone through a purification ceremony, given her vital role in the birth of Jesus Christ. She juxtaposes Jesus's presentation at the temple as the new law, and Mary's presentation as the old. Hughes describe how only through removing her ear-rings was Mary able to turn to the Christian world. This signified a sign of a woman's exotic background as Lorenzetti's painting portrayed, however ear-rings at the time were only really worn by Jews, who were concurrently forming a stronger community in Italian cities.

Ear-rings would later become a sign of Jewish identification and the vices of Franciscan rhetoric, as well as a woman's vainglory. This kind of dress would also become associated with prostitution. A connection between Judaism and prostitution has often been made, but never explained. Eventually this connection would lead to the assumption by many that Jewish women were whores, with ear-rings being the sign of sexual impurity.

Hughes concludes her argument settling what might be the purpose behind either removing ear-rings from portraits of the Virgin Mary or making an obvious point that her ears are pierced, finalizing the concept that even something so minuscule as an ear piercing was symbolic of purity and impurity in the late middle ages.

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