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Push Me, Pull You: Art and Devotional Interaction in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe

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In the lower horizontal border of Lucas Moser’s St. Magdalene Altar-
piece, one of the most important paintings created in fifteenth-century
Germany, the text promises indulgence to those who visited the church
at Tiefenbronn on the feasts of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Anthony,
and St. Erhard: [. . .]DICAT[. . .]/MARIA.MAGDALENA.(ET).IN. DIE./
Despite the historical implications of this inscription, no
studies have yet addressed its significance in the context of indulgence
practices or considered how those practices shaped the function of the
St. Magdalene Altarpiece. Contrary to earlier studies, which linked the
indulgence text to Mary Magdalene’s cult at Tiefenbronn, I believe
that its presence transformed the St. Magdalene Altarpiece into an
“Indulgenced Panel” or Ablaß-Tafel: a type of object, frequently an
altarpiece, consisting of a specified subject accompanied by an indulgence inscription. As a medium for advertising a church’s indulgence
privileges, these altarpieces, including the St. Magdalene Altarpiece,
attracted visitors who wished to reduce their potential purgatorial punishment, to specific ecclesiastical establishments. Even more significantly, indulgenced altarpieces encourage a more personal reaction from the viewer. Reflecting the terms of indulgence the altarpieces direct the beholder, through inscriptions and imagery, to perform the pious acts required to earn the indulgence.


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