Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven. Metropolitan Museum, New York. September 26, 2016–January 8, 2017. Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb. Catalogue: Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb, eds., Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven. New York: Metropolitan Museum, 2016. 352 pp., 354 Illus. $75.
To the eternal question, “Is it good for the Jews?” only one answer—a resounding negative—can be given regarding the tumultuous period covered by this lavish, highly conceptual museum exhibition dedicated to the hotly contested city of Jerusalem across the time of the Crusades, (fig. 1). Following on from four other Metropolitan Museum medieval blockbusters, three of them organized by Helen Evans and dedicated to Byzantine art, the last a trans-Mediterranean exhibition by Stefano Carboni on Venice and Islam, this current international collaboration attempts to highlight medieval exchanges in both peace and conflict.1 The catalogue dust jacket proclaims that “Medieval Jerusalem was a vibrant international center, home to multiple cultures, faiths, and languages. Harmonious and dissonant voices . . .” However, unlike the cosmopolitanism and often open exchange celebrated in those earlier installations, this exhibition highlights parochialism. It celebrates individual religious traditions largely in isolation, rather like those normal separate-but-equal art galleries of the Met’s permanent collections (recently so spectacularly enhanced by their re-installed pan-Islamic presentation). How could any exhibition on Jerusalem in almost any age—including the present—be any different? No piece of real estate has ever been the focus of such emotional energy and pious fervor. But never was the irreconcilable conflict of Jerusalem’s claimants more intense than in the era of the Crusades.
Fully a quarter of the loans come from the divided city of Jerusalem itself: Franciscan, Orthodox, Armenian, Islamic, and Israeli possessors of sacred objects participated in mounting the displays. The organizers’ introduction makes the period ingathering sound more like a shared pilgrimage site than a duel to the death over possession of everyone’s distinctive Holy City. Conquered in 1099 by European Christians answering a papal recruitment call by Urban II in 1095, the city was later reconquered by (or “fell to,” depending on one’s viewpoint) Islamic forces from Egypt in 1187 under the command of the legendary general, Saladin/Salah ad-Din (even the choice of name indicates the orientation of the speaker), who founded the Ayyubid dynasty in the Levant and North Africa. Ruled thereafter from Egypt by Mamluk sovereigns, the city remained in possession of Muslims until the twentieth century. Even today the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the major Christian pilgrimage site in the Old City, actually has a Muslim administrator, who referees the fiercely contested interior spaces among Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Armenian, and even Ethiopian and Syriac claimants. Those groups get some individual attention in this exhibition’s catalogue in essays on the larger subject of patronage: Armenians (Helen Evans), Franciscans (Xavier John Seubert), and Muslim women (Yusuf Natsheh). Yet their conflicting interests produce not pluralism but mutual antagonism. A (now almost mythical) wooden ladder, left standing on the facade wall under Ottoman rule in the nineteenth century, still cannot be moved or removed because of the bitter denominational disputes it could provoke.
Of course, Jews still make their own declarations of allegiance to this city, proclaiming, “Next year in Jerusalem” at the conclusion of every Passover Seder (this line is shown in the exhibition via the Catalonian Barcelona Haggadah, ca. 1360–1370; cat. no. 139). For far longer Jews have also recited the words of Psalm 137:5, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem . . .” But these are mental concepts, not in most cases actual experiences of the city from the sites of Diaspora in Europe. Even Karaite Jews appear in the population mix, especially from the period before the Christian conquest, so they are also included in a brief essay by Meria Polliack (79–81, cat. nos. 30–34), who notes that their largest community today is, indeed, back in Israel.
Yet increased travel during this contested period did permit visits by non-Muslims, even including Maimonides (essay by David Kraemer, 82–83; cat. nos. 38–39) as well as Christian pilgrims, such as the fifteenth-century visitors Felix Fabri and Bernhard von Breydenbach (whose vividly illustrated guidebook, which appeared in Mainz in 1486, also conveys the experience of the region and its diverse inhabitants in images; cat. no. 20; map of Jerusalem and greater Palestine, fig. 2).2 The exhibition and catalogue stress this regional pluralism, highlighted in a joint essay by the organizers (65–75). Many of the objects on display are religious souvenirs (essay by Avinoam Shalem, 23–25), most far more substantial than the tchotchkes on sale in modern Jerusalem for contemporary pilgrims of all stripes.
However downplayed as a central theme, the Crusades are not ignored entirely. Just as they do throughout the catalogue, the organizers introduce this section, near the mid-point of the exhibition, with a joint essay, “Holy War and the Power of Art.” Apart from “pluralism,” their other topics are trade and tourism, sacred art, and patronage. Of course, any exhibition focused on objects, especially objets d’art, can scarcely summon contemporary medieval imagery of violence and cruelty, though weapons and depictions of arms (such as the entire tomb figure of a knight, 211, cat. no. 108) do figure in this display (194–223). But as the organizers point out, the concept of a “holy war” for Christians (essay by James Carroll, 203–205) and of “jihad” for Muslims crystallized around the momentous conflict of the Crusades in this very period. Their essay even invokes Maimonides on the subject of righteous war, as he made a case for destruction of idolatry in his Mishneh Torah, as well as Nachmanides, who advocated divine sanction for Jewish communities in the Land of Israel (198–199). But this kind of artificial balance smacks of television news hours, seeking representatives of each side of a dispute, regardless of the actual imbalance of their cases or any real true-false issues of factuality. They even argue that haggadot pictures could show Jewish warrior figures, as in the illustration of the Red Sea crossing in the Rylands Haggadah (fig. 71; John Rylands University Library, Manchester).
But this again looks like special pleading about the Jews, especially in comparison to truly contemporary warfare depictions, such as those seen in the Morgan Picture Bible from Paris (1244–1254; cat. 109; Morgan Library, New York), a work most likely produced for the French crusader, King Louis IX; ironically, in this case, extra Persian captions were added by subsequent Muslim owners.3 Another image, the “Fall of Jerusalem,” from the French-language History of Outremer by William of Tyre (Paris, ca. 1350; cat. no. 115; see also cat. no. 46), a history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, celebrates the original eleventh-century siege victory for a later audience.
That same crusader king, St. Louis, avidly acquired Christian sacred relics of the Passion, not directly as a result of war itself, but newly permitted by the recent Christian conquest of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204. Such relics are vividly exemplified by the golden Stavelot Triptych (ca. 1156–158; not exhibited; Morgan Library, New York), devoted to the True Cross and decorated with colorful Mosan enamel roundels, which include an image of military conquest by Emperor Constantine, surrounded by older, mounted, central Byzantine enamels.4 This section of the exhibition also includes an early stained glass roundel of mounted crusaders (ca. 1158; no. 112; Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, PA) from St. Denis, the royal abbey of France. There is no mention, however, of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, Louis IX’s treasure house of his crusade relic spoils, most of them acquired indirectly from Byzantine rulers in Constantinople by way of his cousin Baldwin II, ruler of the Latin Kingdom.5 The importance of St. George as the ideal crusader warrior is vividly imaged by a refined icon of the mounted saint with a young boy from Mytilene, whom he rescued from the Saracen foe (cat. no. 119; British Museum, London).6
But what is really essential for this exhibition is to show the surviving crusader presence in the Holy Land in the form of architecture and its decoration, still one of the most striking features of its historical legacy in the modern Israeli landscape. There is little mention here of the mighty Acre/Akko fortress on the north coast or even closer sections of the Judean setting, such as the Hospitallers’ Church in Abu Ghosh, the site of the post-Resurrection Emmaus encounter. But the Church of St. Anne (cat. fig. 78; made into a madrasa with an inscription by Saladin, cat. fig. 79) on the Via Dolorosa near the Pool of Bethesda is singled out, at least in the catalogue. Of course, Jerusalem is chiefly marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (essay by Jaroslav Folda, 131–133) and its modifications from this period, acknowledged here in another joint essay, “Experiencing Sacred Art” by Holcomb and Boehm 116–121. Its major legacy, still extant (unfortunately absent, but see figure 45 in the catalogue for the figural portion, showing New Testament events), is the original, two-part facade lintel (Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem).7
Crusader sculpture is very well represented by a sample of Nazareth fragments: five intricately figurated limestone capitals from the Church of the Annunciation (1170s; 186–193, cat no. 101a–e; figs. 3a, b), possibly by a principal carver from Jerusalem but also close in form to contemporary Romanesque carvings from Burgundy. Marble sculptural fragments from the Templar complex, ca. 1160–1180 (cat. nos. 80a–c) also demonstrate the refined carving of crusader sculptors. Few paintings survive, but the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was adorned with murals commissioned by Melisinde, the crusader queen (1169; 230–231, cat. figs. 84, 85; cf. mosaics, cat. no. 96), and her sumptuous personal psalter is on view (cat. no. 121; British Library, London), bound in its spectacular ivory cover (fig. 4). Christian manuscripts of the various denominations (cat. nos. 17, 27, 29, 31–32, 34, 48–49, 72–74, 76–77, 100, 103, 134, 140, 144–145; cat. figs. 65, 76, 88, 93) and enamels (cat. nos. 25a–f, 122, 130–131, 141–143, 147; cat. figs. 74, 75) form an ongoing highlight of the exhibition, distributed throughout its different sections.
In similar fashion, Islamic architecture on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is discussed (121–126) through the two major buildings, originally dating back to the late seventh-century conquest and the rule of Caliph Abd al-Malik: the Dome of the Rock (essay by Robert Hillenbrand, 134–135) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque; a fragment and a historic photo show the fine wooden inlay work of the pulpit (minbar) of Nur ad-Din in the Al-Aqsa Mosque (1169–1174; cat nos. 93a, b; cat. fig. 42; essay by Sylvia Auld, 136–137).8 These historic buildings, however, were less modified during this period, though the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s recycled Byzantine column capitals, inserted as spolia, are represented by a historic drawing (1909; cat. no. 88).
Period-specific Islamic art is chiefly represented through numerous smaller objects of dazzling craftsmanship. Particularly notable is the brass repoussé and inlaid metalwork (cat. nos. 19, 40, 56, 83, 91, 129a–f), which flourished then in the region from Syria to Egypt, sometimes even utilizing Christian iconographic motifs (e.g., cat. no. 55).9 Enameled glass with figures also sometimes included Christian scenes (and thus possibly made for the occupying crusaders? the catalogue does not say. cat. nos. 24a–c). Other glass, decorated with refined Arabic calligraphy (often with selected surahs from the Qur’an about divine light; 114, 135a–e, cat. fig. 72; fig. 5.), was another Islamic period innovation. Additionally Islamic textiles (cat. nos. 9a–d; 28, 53, 86–87), ceramics (cat. nos. 13a–e, 33), and elaborate calligraphic manuscript texts (cat. nos. 41, 43–44, 54 [Four Gospels in Arabic], 57, 84, 90, 94–95, 104, 128, 133, 148–149; cat. figs. 32, 87, 95, 101) enriched a long tradition. A final magnificent Islamic image of the End Days (ca. 1400; cat. 148; used for the exhibition poster, fig. 6) shows the archangel Israfil blowing his trumpet to signal the ultimate message.
Where does all this leave the Jews of 1100–1400? One wonders whether a similarly broad exhibition of medieval Jewish art could even be mounted in today’s attendance-driven museum culture, and with today’s American public education focusing on diversity through attempts to remove stigmas from Islam rather than on combatting rising anti-Semitism. Thus this exhibition might be the best that Jews can hope for now about investigating their own medieval visual culture.10 As suggested above, most of the Jewish objects included here have only an adventitious connection to Jerusalem itself, a condition freely acknowledged by the organizers in their discussion of Jewish architecture as “The Absent Temple” (126–128). As a matter of basic fact, all the Jewish items in this exhibition stem from Europe, whether Sepharad or Ashkenaz. Thus readers of this journal will perhaps want a fuller accounting of these artifacts and how they are utilized in relation to Jerusalem in the period of their creation.
First of all, pilgrimage by Jews to Jerusalem is one of the authors’ main interests. They focus on both Maimonides and Nachmanides. Both of them praised the virtue of living in the Holy Land. The former, as noted above, actually visited Jerusalem in 1165 but only for a few days before resettling in Egypt, though his letter attests that he possibly sought out either the Western Wall or the Temple precinct for prayer. Nachmanides resettled permanently in Jerusalem in 1267 (under Muslim rule, well after the crusaders were expelled in 1187), and he established both a synagogue and a school there (74). Other visitors, including rabbis from Ashkenaz, also visited thirteenth-century Palestine.
However, as noted, the experience of Jerusalem by medieval European Jews was chiefly conceptual, couched in future dreams and hopes of the Messiah. One marker of their aspirations in the city’s very walls, shared by Christians and Muslims alike, was “The Closed Gate” (essay by Melanie Holcomb, 129–130), also known as the Golden Gate. The current double-arched, walled-up structure dates to the sixteenth-century Ottoman wall restorations by Sultan Süleyman, but early accounts associated the closed gateway with King Solomon, the sultan’s namesake. Rashi claimed that it was an impregnable barrier to enemies. Its final, miraculous opening was to be the harbinger of the final redemption.
What this catalogue does show to suggest the concept of the Closed Gate for medieval Jews are images from illuminated prayer books that depict the heavenly Gates of Mercy, referred to in the Yom Kippur liturgy. In the books, these gates appear as arched openings on columns; one of them (Moskowitz Rhine Mahzor, 1340s; National Library, Jerusalem) features a Gothic building facade, flanked by towers (suggesting a kinship with the contemporary emerging household tradition of the towered spice box—a topic deserving of further research). Those holiday prayer books, all mahzorim (cat. nos. 58, 61a, b), originated in Ashkenaz and date prior to the persecutions of the region’s Jews in association with the Black Death plague pandemic after 1348.11
The other principal imagery in Jewish book illustration imagines the Temple, past but also future. A magnificent volume of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with The Israel Museum, comes from Renaissance Italy (ca. 1457; cat. no. 64). It shows (fol. 41v; fig. 7) worship at the Temple as if it was still being practiced, in the once-and-future Temple.12 Moreover, eschatology mingles with biblical tradition in other imagery that represents the Temple implements. From the Regensburg Pentateuch (ca. 1300; cat. no. 63; Israel Museum, Jerusalem), two adjoining folios illustrate the Sanctuary’s ritual objects in gold on a blue ground (the two most expensive pigments), and show Aaron, dressed in his priestly robes, reaching across the pages to light the Temple menorah.13 More Temple implements adorn two other facing folios, again with gold and costly color, from the Catalan Foa Bible, (ca. 1370–1380; cat. no. 69), again dominated by the menorah on the right; verses in gold on the frames offer biblical passages about the creation of these implements.14 Marking the end of an Italian Bible from the late thirteenth century (cat. no. 66; British Library, London) a full-page, richly colored, and ornamented menorah ends the Pentateuch section; its symmetrical, shofar-blowing, fantasy animals suggest a messianic vision.15 In the final section, “Seeking the Eternal Jerusalem,” (essay by Abby Kornfeld, 270–277, esp. 271–273 for Jewish concepts), these Temple ritual implements are explicitly associated with eschatology in four different manuscripts from Jewish Catalonia (dates ranging from 1280 to the mid-14th century; cat. nos. 137 a–d; fig. 8).16 In the words of the daily prayer, “May it be your will that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days so that our eyes may see it and our hearts rejoice.”17
A more visionary image of the final redemption appears near the end of the exhibition in the Ambrosian Bible’s final full-page miniature (Ulm? Germany, mid-13th century; cat. no. 138; Ambrosian Library, Milan, fol. 136).18 Unconnected to the text, this image depicts the righteous, dining at table with music in Paradise, an Eden-like garden. They are wearing gold crowns but are shown with animal heads, seemingly derived from Christian models, especially symbols for Evangelists (eagle, lion, ox, and ass), all derived from the vision of Ezekiel (1:4–28). Such avoidance of showing humans marked a distinctive trait of south German Jewish book illumination (cf. the Birds’ Head Haggadah). Above the diners, a panel shows three mythical beasts: the giant curled fish Leviathan, a red ox for Behemoth, and a griffin-like winged beast, identified by the catalogue as Ziz; all, respectively, are apocalyptic giants, which, according to Jewish legend, will be subdued at the End of Days. Thus this image, again from medieval Ashkenaz, no longer depicts hopes for a return to Jerusalem in any physical sense (as in the Seder conclusion) or even as an imagined site of the future Temple (as in the representation of ritual implements); rather, Jerusalem exists here only as the imagined hopes of medieval European Jews for their ultimate redemption beyond space and time in Paradise. Its relevance to this exhibition seems tenuous at best, though essential to Jewish cultural history in an era of crusade-sponsored pogroms on European communities.
These images, indeed, offer concepts steeped in Jewish culture, but no longer tied to a physical Jerusalem. This exhibition’s attempt to balance rival religions in an era of unparalleled violent crusade conflict (usually with Jews as victims, not as equals) further falsifies the premise of pluralism suggested by this lavish assembly of magnificent objects but works ultimately placed in empty exhibition.
“The Glory of Byzantium,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 11–July 6, 1997, Helen Evans and William Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium. Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843–1261 (Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 1997); “Byzantium. Faith and Power (1261–1557),” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 23–July 4, 2004, Helen Evans, ed., Byzantium. Faith and Power (1261–1557) (Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 2004); “Byzantium and Islam, Age of Transition (7th–9th Century),” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 14–July 8, 2012, Helen Evans and Brandie Ratliff, eds., Byzantium and Islam, Age of Transition, 7th–9th Century (Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 2012); “Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797,” Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, October 2 2006–February 18, 2007, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 27–July 8, 2007, Stefano Carboni, ed., Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797 (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2007).
Elizabeth Ross, Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book: Breydenbach’s Peregrenatio from Venice to Jerusalem (University Park: Penn State, 2014), 167–183.
William Noel and Daniel Weiss, eds., The Book of Kings: Art, War, and the Morgan Library’s Medieval Picture Bible, exh. cat. (Baltimore: Walters Gallery, 2002); see in this volume esp. Marianna Shreve Simpson, “Shah ‘Abbas and His Picture Bible,” 120–141.
For the crusader king, Daniel Weiss, Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), esp. 4–7, 11–15; also, The Stavelot Triptych, Mosan Art, and the Legend of the True Cross (New York: Morgan Library, 1980).
Weiss, Art and Crusade, 16–77.
Evans, Glory of Byzantium, 395, no. 261.
For much of this material a two-part monograph remains foundational: Jaroslav Folda, The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1098–1187 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), esp. 226–227 for the lintels; Folda, Crusader Art in the Holy Land, from the Third Crusade to the Fall of Acre, 1187–1291 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). For the nonfigural lintel portion, see L.Y. Rahmani, “The Eastern Lintel of the Holy Sepulchre,” Israel Exploration Journal 26 (1976): 120–129.
Oleg Grabar, The Shape of the Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); Grabar, The Dome of the Rock (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).
Rachel Ward, Islamic Metalwork (London: Thames & Hudson, 1993).
Just as Jewish synagogue buildings and objects of the Early Christian period were appended to the exhibition, Jeffrey Spier, ed., Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art, exh. cat. (Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum, 2008), with notable essays by Steven Fine and Herbert Kessler and a mere four pages on Jewish symbols.
Recently for mahzorim, see Katrin Kogman-Appel, A Mahzor from Worms: Art and Religion in a Medieval Jewish Community (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), esp. 19–35.
Bezalel Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts (Jerusalem: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1969), 160–161.
Katrin Kogman-Appel, Jewish Book Art between Islam and Christianity: The Decoration of Hebrew Bibles in Medieval Spain (Leiden, 2004), 150–151; a depiction of the Ark itself again echoes the pointed arches of Gothic churches.
For the ancient and enduring symbol of the menorah, Yael Israeli, ed., In the Light of the Menorah: Story of a Symbol, exh. cat. (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1998); also Steven Fine, The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016).
The last of these, the Catalan Mahzor (National Library, Jerusalem) shows the implements without color and in micrography; Dalia-Ruth Halperin, Illuminating in Micrography: The Catalan Micrography Mahzor (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In general, for the implements in these books, Kogman-Appel, Hebrew Bibles in Medieval Spain, esp. 85–88, 134–140, 142–144, 156–168.
Also echoed in the Passover song, Adir Hu (“G-d is mighty”) and the Birkat HaMazon, “And rebuild Jerusalem the holy city speedily in our days.”
Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, 90–91.