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'Blood libel' has a history in anti-Semitic art

January 12, 2011 | 12:28 pm

Palin AP Photo Facebook

Sarah Palin is receiving sharp criticism for her invocation of "blood libel" in a video posted today on her Facebook page in defense of accusations against her in relation to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson. Blood libel is a false claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in religious rituals.

Giffords is Jewish, and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was among those killed in the attack.

Variations of blood libel also have a history of depictions in art, usually traced to the Middle Ages and the Christian Crusades. Probably the best known is a slightly later predella panel (or altar base) painted in 1468 by Renaissance master Paolo Uccello for a church in Urbino, Italy.

Three scenes in "The Miracle of the Host" recount an anti-Semitic legend. An impoverished woman is forced by a Jewish pawnbroker to trade her cloak for a consecrated wafer, which he then roasts on a trivet in a fireplace for her to eat. Copious blood streams from the Host, which signifies the body of Christ, alerting local police. They knock down the door, burn the pawnbroker and his family at the stake for their crime and hang the woman. The salvaged Host is returned to the altar by the pope himself.

Uccello's predella was meant to support an altarpiece he never painted. The church withdrew the commission when the artist messed up the perspective in the predella's depiction of a patterned floor. Today the notorious panel hangs in the National Gallery of Marche, housed in Urbino's ducal palace.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Sarah Palin's Facebook page; Credit: AP/Facebook