Ukraine on My Mind: Raphael after the Holocaust

For this lecture we welcome speaker Griselda Pollock, Professor Emerita of Social and Critical Histories of Art, University of Leeds.

Organised by the Centre for Jewish Studies, this event is free and all are welcome.

About the lecture

Griselda Pollock, Professor Emerita of Social and Critical Histories of Art, explains the background to the lecture:

“This lecture was first conceived some years ago, after a visit to Odessa and Kishinev. It was also occasioned by the 500th anniversary in 2012 of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1512) and a reading of Russian Jewish novelist Vassily Grossman’s monumental novel Life and Fate (1959/1980).

“Grossman was born in the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, a major centre of Jewish life, intellectual culture and Hasidism during the 19th century. Having been a war correspondent during the siege and defence of Stalingrad (142-43), Grossman travelled with the Red Army across Ukraine on their victorious journey to Berlin, discovering the horrific fate of his mother when all the Jewish community of Berdichev had been murdered in 1941, and crossing Poland from where he wrote one of the first almost first-hand accounts of an extermination camp, Treblinka, whose destroyed remnants he visited.

“In 1955, Grossman encountered Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in Moscow, taken as loot from Dresden by Soviet troops, and he, Jewish, socialist, atheist, wrote an essay on this Catholic Marian icon, linking what he saw on Raphael ‘s rendering of the faces of a peasant mother and her anxious child with what he experienced at Treblinka as a survivor of Stalinism.

“Ukraine was the site of the mass murder by shooting of up to 1.6 million Jewish men, women and children after 1941. This aspect of the Shoah has no place-name. For Grossman, it was Treblinka.

“How can we make the link with Raphael? Bracha Ettinger is an artist who has spent 40 years wit(h)nessing another site of death in Ukraine through a rare photographic record and I have spent 30 years writing about her paintings from one photograph of the women carrying their children to be shot.

“As an art historian, I argue that Art History, the discipline, has never acknowledged the impact of the Holocaust and its fracturing of Western Art’s story of itself—notably the body and the landscape. Was not ‘the story of art’ ruptured in those ravines and towns of Ukraine under German occupation in 1941-44 as much as Adorno argued that history itself was broken at the infamous gates of Auschwitz?

“Raphael is currently being celebrated in a major exhibition the National Gallery, London. Ukraine is once again invaded.

“Both are on my mind.”

Event link

This event will be hosted on Zoom.

Join Professor Griselda Pollock’s lecture.


Photograph of Griselda Pollock