Jerusalem Art Essay
Art involving Jerusalem is very controversial. One has to place into context the fact that Jerusalem is a significant city for three major religions—Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Having one city be so significant leads to both the creation of conflict and beauty. There is conflict in the sense of war and destruction, and beauty in the sense of art on the subject. The three pieces of art this writer selected were all twentieth century pieces, but all show significant scenes, buildings or represent significant Psalms in the life of Jerusalem.
Because of Jerusalem’s historical significance, this writer has chosen a piece of Islamic art that depicts the old city of Jerusalem, a piece of Jewish art that represents the Psalms, and a piece of Christian art that depicts the triumphal entry and some of the significant events of Holy Week, which is the final week of Christ’s life. The first piece of art is an Arab work that shows the old city of Jerusalem. In the painting, one sees a blue-gray sky that overlooks a sandstone colored city. There is a partial wall surrounding the city, and there appears to be two large prayer towers in the background.
There are also some people, men, in the picture, looking towards the city and in a couple of cases walking towards that spiritual city. The city appears to be old, but not ancient, which means this is probably dated somewhere around the Crusades. Though this is a contemporary piece, the artist has chosen to depict Jerusalem at its height in Muslim hands. This painting probably represents Jerusalem during the Crusades. This piece would be very inspiring to Muslims, as it shows the city as theirs. It also gives them an image to look to when contemplating their own religious heritage.
This brings us to the point of religious iconography and the Islamic faith. Religious iconography does not play as significant a role in Muslim religious life than in other religions. This is due in part to their trepidation about displaying the human form in a religious setting. This writer feels that this piece could be taken a number of different ways depending on the perspective, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jew. For Muslims if would take them back to a time of Muslim supremacy, when they “owned” one of the most important cities in their religion.
Jerusalem is a significant city for the Muslims. According to various scholars, Jerusalem is significant because it is believed it is the city from which Muhammad rose to heaven. It is also significant because some of Islam’s most significant prophets (Abraham and Jesus) preached and taught. It is also a place to which Muhammad made an historic night pilgrimage. For Christians and Jews, it would be a solemn reminder that there was a time when Christians and Jews lost their most holy city to a people they deemed “infidels”.
It would bring about a profound sense of sadness and loss and might inspire a fighting spirit in Jews and Christians to reclaim their city. Over the years, the passions the Muslims have over Jerusalem have become inflamed to the point of outright violence. The attitudes have only gotten more intense and more inflexible towards the Holy City. This writer feels that the times have only served to strengthen the resolve of Muslims to reclaim the city that they perceive as theirs. Emotionally, the tensions in the region have made Muslims even more determined to control the city completely.
As significant as Jerusalem is to Muslims, it also has a supreme significance to Jews. Jews actually fee as if the city belongs to them and was bequeathed to them by God thousands of years ago. It is so significant that dozens of Psalms were written about the city. One of the Psalms is 125, which says in part, “[a]s the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever (verse 2). ” In this painting by Irv Davis, one sees an encapsulated city of Jerusalem surrounded by grey mountains.
The city is cream, almost white, and it is implied that the city is made of marble. The sky is blue and the sun is shining, adding to the shine on the city. One can imply that the encapsulation is the spirit of God surrounding the city and protecting it from outsiders and enemies. The contrasts are very sharp, the darkness of the mountains are contrasted with the whiteness and purity of the city. This obviously represents a very young Jerusalem. This also represents a time when the Jews were extremely fervent about their faith and wished to follow the Lord and seek his will.
This picture represents a Jerusalem on the rise. It is also a bit on the allegorical side, with the young city representing a young faith. The newness of the city represents the fervency of the believers. They wish to follow the Lord and, as with anything new, the new city represents a new faith. This piece of art could be taken by the three groups in different ways. For Jews, it represents a time in their history when they had a true passion for God and would write songs of praise to the Lord using their most holy city as an inspiration.
For Muslims, it would be a dour reminder that a region and city of the world they felt they originally owned had been forcibly removed from their possession and would remain in control of another group for several thousand years. They would also bemoan the fact that a new faith system would be replacing the polytheism that had dominated the region in the years prior to the Jewish takeover. Jews view the city of Jerusalem with as many passions and emotions as the Muslims. They see it as one of the most significant cities of their faith, and as such, wish to reclaim it as a purely Judeo-Christian city.
The emotions of the Jews towards the city have always been strong, but over time, have waxed and waned, leading to the times that we have now where the Jews are fighting as passionately for the city as their Muslim counterparts. Both groups have legitimate religious and traditional claims to the city, yet either refuses to give in and relent towards their passions for the city. They each want the city, and are willing to do just about anything to get and maintain control over it. Christians have a whole other unique perspective on the city of Jerusalem.
Before we can discuss the artistic expression of the selected artwork, it bears discussing the cultural ties that bind Christians to the city of Jerusalem. Christians view the city as very important because not only did Jesus make his triumphal entry into the city during Holy Week, but also taught in the region. Additionally, the apostles taught in the region and it was from the city of Jerusalem that Christianity was established in the form of Christ’s death and resurrection. The piece of art that was selected was some hand painted tiles from Jerusalem that show scenes from the triumphal entry and major scenes from Holy Week.
The tiles are well-painted and detailed. Though they are also twentieth century, the story they tell condenses the entire story of Christianity in four small tiles. They are done in yellows, blues, white, black, and red. These tiles show an older, wiser Jerusalem. There is an overall sadness to the scenes, when one places the tiles in the context of the Bible, one can find that there is indeed a sadness, but at the same time a joy in the scene being depicted. It is ironic that death represents life and birth, but that is indeed what this scene and this depiction of Jerusalem shows.
For Christians, Jerusalem represents the birth of their religion and the new life that is promised from the rising from the dead of Christ. Though there may be other cities that are significant in Christendom, for Christians, the events that transpired the week of Holy Week in Jerusalem are what assured the promises made in all the other cities. This piece of art could be taken by the three religions in different ways. For Christians, obviously, there is an association with the outright birth of the religion.
The death that occurred outside Jerusalem represented the birth of a whole new belief system. For Jews, while the beliefs of Christian might be unusual, would see Christians as having as legitimate a claim to the city as they do, since they feel that the two groups worship the same God. For Muslims, the scenes simply show significant scenes in the life of a major prophet of their faith. They may view the Christian’s claims towards the city as interesting, but not as significant nor as important as their own claim towards the city.
Christian attitudes towards the city have always been passionate, and they actually fought seven crusades that were specifically designed to take back the city from the Muslims. While they were not successful for long in keeping the Muslims out, they were able to develop a life of “peaceful coexistence” with the Muslims. Christians traditionally have supported the Jewish claim towards the city, as evidenced in the fact that we actively support the mission of Israel today.
Christian passions have always been high for the city, but they have cooled over time, and we no longer actively seek to crusade against those we perceive as infidels. Christians now instead seek peaceful coexistence with other groups, but especially the Muslims. Christians are a pragmatic people that see the realities of the situation and only seek to have the best possible outcomes for all the parties. As one can see from the above statements, Jerusalem holds a special place in the hearts of all three religions. While it has inflamed passions, it has also inspired Psalmists and believers for centuries.
We should seek understanding of the situations that create the passions and instead of seeming to remain in a state of constant conflict. We should view Jerusalem as a source of inspiration and not as a source of contention. The world’s three largest religions each have legitimate claims to the city and each needs to give up something in order to get access to the one city that they all deem to be the most important in their religion. The city is a true test of negotiation and faith, and as such should remain a source of inspiration. Bibliography about. com, “Painting of Jerusalem Psalms.
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