1: Woodcut, “Martyrdom of Simon von Trent,” 1493.
Simon of Trent was a Christian child from the city of Trento, Italy, who lived in the late fifteenth century. When he disappeared and was subsequently murdered, local Jewish leaders were blamed. After his body was located, all of the city’s Jews were rounded up and forced, through torture, to confess to killing Simon and using his blood for rituals.
Suggested Activity: Show students the woodcut depicting the murder of Simon of Trent. This print is from an early chronicle of world history as told through stories from the Bible. Who are the figures in the artwork? What’s happening in it? Where is it set? What do the calligraphic words say? How do we know who’s Jewish in this picture? What about the depiction makes it appear that these figures are conducting a ritualistic activity? What do you think the goal of the artist may have been in creating this work? What do you think the image would have conveyed about Jews to non-Jewish viewers in the late fifteenth century?
Chaucer’s tale is a written account of a blood libel case; this image is an illustrated account of the Simon of Trent case. How do these methods of retelling—the narrative and the visual—differ from each other? What does each medium offer to the storyteller/artist?
Source: Michel Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, "Martyrdom of Simon von Trent,” 1493, in Hartmann Schedels Weltchronik (Schedel’s World History) (Nuremberg, 1493), plate 23, accessed online.