In the beginning Jerusalem.
No other place in the western world is the focus of such intense spiritual fascination. Addressing this acclaim, Mircea Eliade, foremost among historians of religion, suggests that Jerusalem, like other sites around the world, is a "sacred space". What are the characteristics of such a site?
Like other holy sites throughout the world, Jerusalem is designated in midrash ‘the navel of the land’ (otherwise known as the omphalos) – the point where things begin, from which the world was created. What more immediate analogy than to present the locus of the world’s creation in birth terms.
From this point emerge spacial axes, one connecting the place (Hebrew מקום, Arabic makam - a holy place) with the rest of the earth's surface and one with worlds above and below (the axis mundi) and a temporal axis - connecting it to the cycle of seasons and to the linearity of history and the future.
This basic (and incomplete) verbal diagram promotes a different kind of perception, not just ‘everyday seeing’ of the sacred space. It is imaginal, combining intellect and senses essential to structuring human experience, critical to understanding the iconography of the art of Jerusalem, which early on employs ‘sacred geography’.
Christian Jerusalem
Christian art depicting Jerusalem spans a period of over 1500 years. It is therefore not surprising that it reflects changing attitudes toward Jerusalem in Christianity and its various denominations. While there is no linear development of style or orientation in the following examples of Christian art on Jerusalem, two principles or tensions emerge from our examination:
One is between realism on the one hand, and idealization, symmetry and spirituality, on the other.
The second regards the artists’ sources: on the one hand, the realia of Jerusalem (at different points in history) and on the other, the description of Jerusalem in sacred texts (Revelation, the Gospels and Ezekiel).
The 6th century Madaba mosaic map is our earliest visual portrayal of Jerusalem. It was originally 21 m. by 7 m. but was seriously damaged both in antiquity and in modern times. The remaining parts are 16 m. by 5 m., depicting the Holy Land and also the Nile Delta.
Here is the section of the map that portrays Jerusalem “the Holy”.
The depiction of Jerusalem conforms to what we know from both written sources and archaeological investigations. The orientation is to the east, as in most ancient maps. We see a gate on the left (=north) of the oval city and a plaza within; this is certainly the Damascus Gate, called the Gate of the Column even today in Arabic. In the plaza is a column, from which distances were measured along the Roman roads throughout the country. From that gate, a broad street lined with columns runs through the city from north to south - this is the Cardo Maximo, the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem.
Along the Cardo, seemingly upside down, is the golden domed Church of the Holy Sepulcher; its strange orientation reflects the fact that its original entrance was from the east and the Church “pointed” west, unlike other churches. Another smaller street to the east - the Cardo Secundo - leads to the Lion’s or St. Stephen’s Gate. On the western wall of the city there is yet another gate (today’s Jaffa Gate) and within the city to the south a large building, the Nea Church, some of whose remains can still be seen.
Thus the map depicts the city with some accuracy, although its oval shape shows a tendency toward stylization.
Celestial Jerusalem appears as a perfect square in the Book of Revelation (ch 21). However the artist of a 9th century apocalypse surprises us with circles: twelve circular foundations, twelve gates ( three in each direction) centered on Agnus Dei, the lamb of God.
Given the description in Revelation, why did the artist depict a circular celestial Jerusalem? Perhaps because the circles symbolize time - in this case the “end time” - whereas the square suggests space.
As if the picture was insufficient the artist inscribes the poetic Latin text:
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:23)
One century later heavenly Jerusalem is depicted as a square in accordance with Revelation, with its familiar iconography: twelve rounded gates (three on each side) centered on the Agnus Dei, St. John of Patmos and an angel. Unlike the painter of the Valencienne Apocalype, this artist seems to have been more concerned with faithfulness to the text than with interpretive freedom.
By the 12th century, the Crusaders had arrived at the earthly Jerusalem.
This map combines the idealized symmetry of Revelation with urban reality: like the Valencienne Apocalype, the city is depicted as circular (which it was not), but this map is quite accurate in its placement of streets, quarters and buildings. The impressive building at twelve o’clock is undoubtedly the Dome of the Rock, which the Crusaders appropriated from the Muslims and converted into a Church.
Differing from them both visually and conceptually, our next depiction of Jerusalem is a leap away from the earlier paintings.
Based not on Revelation, but on Ezekiel 40, this painting is the measuring of the future Temple, which will replace the First Temple, destroyed because of Israel’s sins. Ezekiel stands at the right and the “architect” on the left with his rod and measure. Scholars have concluded that this 12th century painting is an attempt to compensate for the failure of the Second Crusade, insisting on Christianity’s eventual triumph over Jews and Muslims. For example, the future Temple here (as in the Uppsala map) resembles the Dome of the Rock, enthroned in the middle of the holy precinct (the Harm e-Sharif).
In some ways, Ezekiel’s 6th century bce idealized description of the future Temple anticipates Revelation’s 1st century ce description of the future city of Jerusalem. Schwarzheindorf, in the 12th century, in a midrashic leap, links the three time periods to structure his visual theology. Thus, it emphasizes the period of the crusades, stressing the punishment of the sinners, i.e. the Jews.
This Crusader Jerusalem is mainly the Temple, rather than an urban center. But where is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the original object of the Crusades? Ironically, it would seem that the Sepulcher has merged with the Temple (and the Dome of the Rock), which it is meant to supersede.
Only a century later, tableau is replaced by narrative in the portrayal of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, accompanied by his excited followers, as recounted in Matthew 21, Luke 19 and the other gospels. While Matthew describes the people of Jerusalem as welcoming Jesus enthusiastically, Luke stresses voices of contention. Both gospels describe this is as a triumph.
Paintings of this event depict neither the celestial Jerusalem of Revelation, nor the future Temple of Ezekiel, but rather the historical Jerusalem of Jesus. As examples, we bring one by a Syriac artist living in Iraq in the 13th century and another by a Tuscan artist of the 14th century.
from a Syriac Lectionary Iraq, Pietro Lorenzetti, ca. 1320
1216 - 1220
In both, some agile observers are climbing trees to get a better view of the crowd scenes, with Jesus’ disciples distinguished by their haloes. In the Italian painting, one of the residents of Jerusalem spreads a “red carpet” for the guest of honor; others, raise palm branches in welcome (Matthew). In a different mood, Jerusalem residents in the Syriac painting, peer from the city walls, with less enthusiasm (Luke).
These two paintings, although separated in time by only a hundred years, are worlds apart geographically and culturally. The Syriac painting portrays Jerusalem as a Middle Eastern city, with domes, large windows and a small gate. The Italian painting, based perhaps on the look of Renaissance Siena, features a town hall, a large vaulted gateway and small cruciform windows.
In neither case is there idealized symmetry, but rather each is based on the architecture of the artists’ time and place. In both cases, Jerusalem is represented by a partial view of the city’s crenelated wall.
The preceding depictions of Jerusalem tend toward idealization and symmetry or a partial, anachronistic view of the city. They reflect the ambivalence in early Christianity toward the earthly Jerusalem - the site of Jesus’ rejection and death - expressed in art by the very avoidance of depictions of the real city or its depiction in idealized or truncated ways.
But in a mid-15th century French pilgrims’ guide, Jerusalem is presented realistically.
At the bottom, pilgrims arrive on the Mediterranean coast and ascend to Jerusalem on a winding path, through the Hills of Judea. While the city appears to be a mere jumble of domed buildings, we can actually identify many of Jerusalem’s major buildings, including the very prominent Dome of the Rock and el-Aqsa mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and David’s Tower.
Shortly afterward, the tendency toward realism becomes almost photographic.
Based on his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1483 - 84, Breydenbach shows Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, with the Dome of the Rock (labelled the Temple of Solomon) prominent at center and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher behind and to the right. David’s citadel is directly behind the Dome and el Aqsa mosque is to the left. While generally accurate, the drawing shows Jerusalem bordered by an oval that does not exist in reality. Strangely, a ship docked at Jaffa appears at the bottom of the “map”, entirely out of its geographical place. Likewise, the Mount of Olives and Mt. Nebo appear at the top of the map, contrary to the view of the city from the east. In effect, Breydenbach has combined two different views of Jerusalem: one, of the pilgrims ascending from the west and the other, of the observer viewing from the east. Thus this first printed map of Jerusalem still includes ideological elements.
Given the tendency toward realism that began already in the 16th century, we are astonished to find a largely imaginary portrayal of Jerusalem in the following depiction from 19th century America.
Created by one Charles O’Donnell in 1871 and said to be based on “an original at Rome”, this is a “biblical map”, relating to events and structures from the Old and New Testaments. It portrays the city from the west, looking toward “Solomon’s Temple”, whose fantasy architecture has antecedents in 16th and 17th century maps, created on the basis of often incorrect readings of Josephus, the New Testament and other sources. This 19th century map, an expression of the then current American view of the United States as the new Holy Land, opposes the trend towards realism and precision in the portrayal of Jerusalem; perhaps the artist was overwhelmed by his own fantasies.
Nourished by his religious conversion, French artist James Tissot undertook a project of watercolors depicting the life of Jesus. In preparation, he visited the Holy Land in 1886-87 and again in 1889, sketching sites mentioned in the Gospels and particularly, Jerusalem.
Larger than life, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Both arms are raised in an enthusiastic gesture of joy. We’ve addressed this scene earlier in two paintings from the Middle Ages. Comparison of the treatments points up Tissot’s commitment to verism, even more obvious in his companion painting of Jerusalem’s walls, gates and the Temple.
Diametrically opposed to this verism, contemporary American artist David Suter’s “Jerusalem” of 1980, a city, walled in the shape of a Magen David, rests on a mountain top.
A cross and and a crescent are integrated into the city, while pilgrims ascend to the holy city. The wall has a number of open gates, indicating a welcoming structure. The idealization of Jerusalem returns, now with emphasis on hopes for interfaith tolerance.
Jewish Jerusalem
We’ve come to Israel needing an experience of holiness. Bible in hand, we expect my tour guide to connect geography with my search for the sacred. Where do we start?
Do we start from the kotel or from the Mount of Olives - 2 different approaches: one goes right to the center and ignores the context, the other attempts to understand the center by locating it within the context. Which is the way of traditional Jewish art on Jerusalem? Certainly the first, focused on the Temple, past, present or future. The second, the contextual approach, is perhaps less sure of the holiness of the center and therefore tries to understand that center as a function of the whole city; this is the modern Jewish approach. By examining Jewish art on Jerusalem from the 3rd century CE until today, we will see a gradual change from focus on the Temple to a widening of interest in the city, even the secular city.
The discovery of a painted synagogue at Dura Europos dating from 244 ce caused a revolution in thinking about Jewish art. The focal point of the synagogue, directly above the Torah niche, is the entrance into the Jerusalem Temple, flanked by pillars in the Roman-Hellenistic style. To the left, the menorah, lulav and etrog represent the symbols of worship and to the right, the binding of Isaac, provides the Temple its theological basis. The city of Jerusalem itself is not represented, but merely assumed as the Temple’s context. This diaspora synagogue represented its hope for national and religious restoration through the image of the Temple.
In the ensuing years, the Temple continued to symbolize Jewish hopes, as in the spectacular 6th century mosaic from Bet Alpha.
Other synagogues in the land of Israel from this period, such as Hamat Tiberias and Zippori, show similar iconography,.
At present, there is a dearth of Jewish artistic evidence from the ensuing years, until the 13th century, when Jewish illuminated manuscripts first appeared. One of the earliest examples is the Birds’ Head Haggadah of 1296.
This final illustration of the Birds’ Head Haggadah accompanies the closing hymn “next year in Jerusalem” and the drinking of the fourth cup of wine. Parallel to these words is an excited visualization, containing two elements: Below in both folios, Jews are cheering; Above left, a figure, stands under a monumental gate, labelled Jerusalem. He gestures to the people below while pointing to the building, which represents three elements: the earthly Jerusalem, the celestial Jerusalem and the Temple (earthly and heavenly). As in the Christian paintings of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, a part of Jerusalem’s wall represents the whole city. It has been suggested that the figure standing within the Temple is the Messiah, based on a group of ancient midrashim rewritten not long before the creation of this haggadah.
Thus our picture, a novelty for its time, combines Messianic expectations with the certainty that the Temple will be rebuilt in the future, i.e. next year. It’s possible that these messianic hopes were stirred by the failure of the Third Crusade.
This process of expansion continues in the Venice Haggadah of 1609.
A symmetrical walled city (labelled Jerusalem) surrounds the Temple, modeled, once again, on the Dome of the Rock. Outside the walls, Elijah leads the Messiah, mounted on a donkey, while crowds greet them enthusiastically, reminding us of the paintings of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is the first case we have in Jewish art of Jerusalem depicted as the “sacred center” as in .
The appearance of sacred geography in a 19th century shabbat cloth comes as a delightful surprise.
Within the center, the Temple, Solomon’s “midrash” and the Western Wall appear. Around the inner circle are fifteen holy places, mainly from the Jerusalem area, but also from Hebron, Safed and Tiberias, the traditional holy cities of the land of Israel. In the corners are embroidered four additional holy sites, including the tombs of King David and Rachel.
The sacred center within the circle, framed by the universal square, in Christian art and is present throughout the world. Two tendencies in the Jewish portrayal of Jerusalem appear here: the growing symmetrical portrayal of Jerusalem and the expansion of the focus from the Temple to all of Jerusalem and beyond.
A further development of the tendency toward symmetry is seen in Martin Buber’s ex libris, designed by his artist friend E. M. Lilien in 1901.
Although there is no overt reference to Jerusalem, the Magen David shaped walls on the precipice at the sacred center are certainly the holy city. We are reminded of Suter’s Jerusalem, but without the element of interfaith hopes. The ambiguous background (is it the sky? is it the sea? is it land?) leads us to the dual notion of the celestial and earthly Jerusalem.
As in the Christian art deriving from Revelation , there is no Temple at the city’s center. But here, the absence of the Temple reflects Buber’s concept of Zionism, an unorthodox view of Israel/Jerusalem as the Spiritual Center of the Jewish People.
The quotation above the picture amplifies this view. It is taken from Leviticus 25:23, in which sale of land is prohibited, because the land of Israel belongs to God.
(כג) וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃
(23) But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.
In Buber’s philosophy, “Mine is the land” stresses the spiritual character of Israel/Jerusalem, rather than being a political or economic statement.
Marc Chagall’s series on the Song of Songs celebrates the wedding of the allegorical couple, Israel and God.
Between the bridal pair on the left and the reclining lovers on the right, two Jerusalems float within a large circle. Above is walled and symmetrical Jerusalem, marked by a tower representing the Temple, from which smoke rises. Below (upside down) is Chagall’s home town of Vitebsk, often the subject of the artist’s nostalgia. Is the walled city facing upward the celestial Jerusalem or the earthly Jerusalem? Is upside down Vitebsk celestial or earthly Jerusalem? This ambiguity endows the work with greater depth of meaning.
As in other treatments of Jerusalem, Mark Podwal frames Jerusalem within rectangular and oval symmetry.
The picture itself is an almost photographic view of the Damascus Gate, flanked by icons of spirituality: Elijah leading the Messiah, the blessing gesture of the priests and the fruitful pomegranate, representing the many commandments. A lion and a lamb lying together refer us to the messianic vision of Isaiah 11: 6 - 7.
(ו) וְגָ֤ר זְאֵב֙ עִם־כֶּ֔בֶשׂ וְנָמֵ֖ר עִם־גְּדִ֣י יִרְבָּ֑ץ וְעֵ֨גֶל וּכְפִ֤יר וּמְרִיא֙ יַחְדָּ֔ו וְנַ֥עַר קָטֹ֖ן נֹהֵ֥ג בָּֽם׃ (ז) וּפָרָ֤ה וָדֹב֙ תִּרְעֶ֔ינָה יַחְדָּ֖ו יִרְבְּצ֣וּ יַלְדֵיהֶ֑ן וְאַרְיֵ֖ה כַּבָּקָ֥ר יֹאכַל־תֶּֽבֶן׃
(6) The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard lie down with the kid; The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, With a little boy to herd them. (7) The cow and the bear shall graze, Their young shall lie down together; And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.
In another picture by Podwal, a sparkling night sky celebrates the waxing crescent of the new moon.
The walled city of Jerusalem, although central to our thinking, occupies here only the bottom of the print. This is a symbolic shift from what we are accustomed to seeing, where Jerusalem is the center. It also embodies the concept of the , believed to be the world’s foundation. Again, Jerusalem is viewed from the east, so that the Dome of the Rock is in the center foreground. The the city is symmetrical rather than accurate, stressing the spiritual, rather than the physical character of the city.
Menashe Kadishman treats the Western Wall (the Kotel) in an entirely surprising manner.
Kadishman, The Kotel, 1979
The colorful patches replace the letters inserted between the stones by myriad visitors. More than indifferent scraps of paper the colors convey the moods of the visitors: sadness, contemplation, joy, fear. This is a shock to the viewer, but it opens the heart to a feeling visit to Jerusalem.
Jo Milgrom works from found forms in creating the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem.
The known city, the earthly Jerusalem, is the dark background, a polished wooden sculpture, rescued from a recycling store. Milgrom is now faced with the question of how to do the celestial Jerusalem, which is the unknown. True to her methodology, building scraps have come to the rescue. Superimposed on the earthly Jerusalem, are shapes that one can see vaguely as buildings, landscapes, hills. Earthly Jerusalem is finished, polished, smooth; heavenly Jerusalem is rough and raw, a blank page.
Jo Milgrom, If the Kotel Could Speak
It’s really weird how some folks idolize me
someone called me like a dance hall
troubled, my left eye seems to look out,
but it is really looking inward
not exactly pleasuring
my past role
in Jewish history
but my right eye
bulging and burning
is fearful raging
about the future
a young woman is climbing
out of an old book looking resolutely
straight ahead whatever she learned
she is already gone no diskotel for her
As for all those notes
people stick between my stones
the cloud will answer
Recently I saw this
city worker
sweeping them all up
He’s not a theologian
A stone is
A stone is
A stone
The central focus of Yitzhak Greenfield’s dark and mysterious collage of Jerusalem is the compass, reflecting the creation of the universe as painted already in a 13th century Bible Moralisee.
The painting abounds with images typical of Greenfield’s work: locks, columns of the Temple, assorted floating Hebrew letters and orbiting worlds.
In Leora Wise’s painting of a scene from David Grossman’s “Somebody to Run With”, Zion Square becomes the “sacred center” of new Jerusalem.
On the left, a group of young Bratslaver hasidim dance and sing, while two secular woman perform on the right. Between them, the buildings and the crowds of Ben Yehuda street form an intersection. Two significant images form an axis mundi at the center above and below: the dog, Dinka, lost, looks for her owner from within a celestial cloud and thin ribbons of text in a semi-circle. This is a modern transformation of much of what we have seen before regarding Jerusalem: the intersection of streets, buildings and people, further stressed visually by the half-round quotations from the book.
Muslim Jerusalem
There is no express reference to Jerusalem in the Quran. Scholars are divided regarding the question of Muhammad’s relationship with and knowledge of Jerusalem. According to an oral tradition, Jerusalem was the original direction of prayer in the Prophet’s time, but was replaced by Mecca after “16 or 17 months”. Other oral traditions, attributed to Muhammad, rank Jerusalem as third in holiness after Mecca and Medina. The basis of this holiness is found in interpretations of a passage from the Quran:
Glory to Him who made His servant travel by night
from the sacred place of worship to the furthest place
of worship, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him
some of Our signs.... Quran 17
The “sacred place” is understood by all to be the ancient Arab holy place at Mecca and the “furthest place of worship” (=el Aqsa) became identified as Jerusalem, known in Arabic as Beyt el-Maqdis or el Quds (= the Holy). In early Islam and amongst many Shi’ites, el Aqsa refers to the heavenly Mecca, akin to the heavenly Jerusalem of Judaism and Christianity. But orthodox Islam came to see el Aqsa as referring to the mosque in Jerusalem.
The event described here is called the “Night Journey”, during which Muhammad rode a fabulous winged steed named Buraq over great distances, eventually ascending to heaven to meet with Allah, as in the picture below.
As we will see, there is much visual continuity between traditional and modern treatments of Jerusalem in Muslim art, but also some very interesting divergences.
The night journey from Mecca to the heavens anticipates the astounding scientific exploration of space in our own times. Except that it is unlikely that we are hoping to meet the divinity, or is it? Space is filled with golden clouds that cushion the Prophet’s journey. Mecca is the base from which he is fired aloft.
In a roughly contemporary treatment of the Night Journey, similar golden clouds cushion the Prophet’s ascent.
The itinerary differs in this version, with Mecca being on the right and another building on the left, beneath which is a massive boulder. This is the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, identified by the Foundation Stone of earlier Jewish tradition, now located inside the Dome and near the Aqsa mosque. In other words, this picturing of the Quranic account explicitly identifies Jerusalem as a station on the Journey.
From the Mi'rajnama (Book of the ascension), by Bahram Mirza
16th century. Istanbul, Topkapi
According to oral tradition Muhammad, on his way to heaven. met with his prophetic predecessors in the mosque of el Aqsa (here resembling the Dome of the Rock) and led them in prayer. Muhammad is seated in the center, surrounded by an impressive gathering, featuring prophets, both male and female, angels and Buraq. While this oral tradition is anachronistic (since the Dome of the Rock was built more than 100 years after Muhammad’s time), it reflects a deep reverence for the place in Muslim thinking.
Other oral traditions relate that on returning to Mecca from the Fabulous Night Journey, Muhammad was asked by his “board of trustees” to describe Jerusalem.
The prophet was silenced and embarrassed; he couldn’t describe it because he had seen it at night. In this tradition and in the above picture, the angel Gibril comes to his rescue, uproots the city and carries it to the Prophet “on a tray”.
Last in our discussion of premodern Muslim art is a schematic picture of the squared sacred center.
Nothing exciting is going on, but we can see the layout of sacred geography. The Dome of the Rock is in the center of an inner compound, while the mosque of el Aqsa is in the outer compound to the right. Outside of the compounds (the Harm el-Sharif), both on the left and the right, are indications of habitations. Thus, the city of Jerusalem doesn’t interest this artist except for the holy precinct.
Sliman Mansour’s iconic Camel of Hardships, painted originally in 1973 and again in subsequent years, is a departure from traditional Muslim depictions of Jerusalem.
Mansour, Camel of Hardships III, 2005
It is a leap into modernity, filled with emotion rather than piety. We can identify with this burdened, perhaps bleeding figure; yet he is powerfully built, his arms and forehead bearing the weight of the Old City of Jerusalem
Shaped like an eye, the city as in previous depictions is centered on the Dome of the Rock. But unlike earlier depictions, Mansour has also given ample space to residential buildings and, in this later version, to some of the Christian institutions of the city, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. However, there is something strange in the perspective: since we are standing on the Mount of Olives, looking to the west, the residential area should be behind the Dome. Mansour has skewed the geography in order to highlight the Palestinian population and their homes, rather than only the holy precinct, as in earlier Muslim art.
A grand celebration is the overall appearance of Ismail Shamout’s “Life prevails”.
The largest, most visible elements appear in the upper horizontal section: the sea and a mysterious hand, four beautiful women and a series of buildings from all over Palestine. As usual, the Dome of the Rock figures prominently, expressing the centrality of Jerusalem for Palestinian identity. But here, this symbol of Islam is accompanied by other famous buildings of the Palestinian landscape from Gaza, to Jericho, to Acco and to Nazareth.
A lively wedding procession proceeds from the horizontal. Neither conflict nor suffering is evident. The overall message is of unity and hope.
Leading Palestinian artist, Nabil Anani, produced two beautiful though enigmatic paintings concerning Jerusalem in 1984.
Dominating the entire scene a large Palestinian woman supports the city and its residents above. Protesting figures fill the right side; the left, represents “Our Capital” with the conventional symbol of the Dome of the Rock and other prominent Jerusalem buildings. A large blue expanse under the arms of the woman extends to the base of the painting, which is filled with colorful, amorphous figures, as is her dress and the sleeves of her garment.
The woman can be seen as a Christ-figure or as an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol of life. As a Christ-figure she is a symbol of the suffering of the Palestinian people; as an ankh, she is the bond between the people, the holy city and the world.
We end our discussion of Islamic art on Jerusalem with the most enigmatic of our resources.
Anani’s painting is filled with active figures, dancing in a circle on the right and framing the painting on the left. A row of women bridges the two halves of the picture. Three women and crescents dominate the left.
Missing in Anani’s painting is the everpresent symbol of Muslim Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock. Instead, we have the Quranic Tree of Immortality (Quran 20:120) at the sacred center, el-Quds.
In both paintings, women dominate Jerusalem. Is this role similar in some way to the often used biblical term “daughters of Jerusalem” and indeed to the address of Jerusalem in the feminine, as in Lamentations 1?:
(א) אֵיכָ֣ה ׀ יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד הָעִיר֙ רַבָּ֣תִי עָ֔ם הָיְתָ֖ה כְּאַלְמָנָ֑ה רַבָּ֣תִי בַגּוֹיִ֗ם שָׂרָ֙תִי֙ בַּמְּדִינ֔וֹת הָיְתָ֖ה לָמַֽס׃ {ס}
(1) Alas! Lonely sits the city Once great with people! She that was great among nations Is become like a widow; The princess among states Is become a thrall.
In any event, like Jewish and Christian artists, Muslim artists continue to see Jerusalem as a spiritual locus, a place attracting the pious, regardless of their religion. While religious imagery continues to dominate in much of Palestinian art, Jerusalem has become a political focal point as well.
Among Christian, Jewish and Muslim artists, Jerusalem was first treated mainly as a concept, a holy locale, a sacred center. Over the course of the years, and especially in modern times, a growing number of artistic depictions of Jerusalem reflect the urban reality. We suggest that this is due partly to increased access (by way of the Internet, for example) to the city’s everyday life. In addition, the media frequently exposes Jerusalem as the scene of political, religious and cultural problems and conflicts. This change is also part of a general tendency throughout the years and across religions and cultures to see Jerusalem as representing wider issues, no longer limited to a particular location.