today’s global village we easily forget that only a few hundred years ago
people were not aware of the physical terrain of a foreign country. Nor were
they aware of how local people of other cultures appeared and dressed, unless
they traveled to those distant countries.
Landscapes of the Bible, on exhibit
at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, presents works by masters of the
16th through 19th centuries. The works by Rubens, Breughel, Poussin, Rembrandt
and others, represent biblical themes against an imagined Holyland.
Most of these European artists had never seen the Holyland and the works
represent backgrounds often reminiscent of their own country of origin more
than the land of Israel.
For example, in the painting The
Israelites Crossing the Red Sea (1594), Cornelis van Haarlem clothes
his subjects in bright colors and “exotic costumes”, almost Harlequin-like
In one of the paintings, the clothing
worn by King David and his soldiers is clearly European fashion – and very
inappropriate for the climate of the Holyland. In the painting, The Finding
of Moses (ca. 1581), Veronese peoples the scene with “overdressed” Biblical
figures, the men in dress similar to that of Vatican guards, and the women
in brocade gowns.
The American artist Thomas Cole sets
the Holyland in the mountains of North America to which he adds palm trees.
Another must-see at the Israel
Museum are the two paintings by Nicolas Poussin showing the destruction
of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the first time these paintings have
been shown together. Both paintings were commissioned by Cardinal Barberini,
nephew of Pope Urban VIII, but painted 13 years apart.
Poussin’s treatment of the same subject
matter differs. In The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Titus
(1638), on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Poussin includes
Jerusalem in the background and shows the conflagration that overtook the
In the Museum’s new
acqusition, Destruction and Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem (1625),
Poussin obliterated the view of Jerusalem with dark clouds; it is thought
that it took a more mature Poussin to feel confident enough to handle the
architectual aspect of the city of Jerusalem. Scholars believe that Poussin
used the Pantheon as the model for the Temple, and the Arch of Titus as the
model for the menorah; he of course had access to view these landmarks, as
he painted in Rome. The works are displayed together at the Israel Museum
until December 31, 2000 after which they will travel to Vienna.
Text by J. Isaacson