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15.10.04, Kühnel, Noga-Banai, and Vorholt, eds., Visual Constructs of Jerusalem

The Medieval Review

15.10.04, Kühnel, Noga-Banai, and Vorholt, eds., Visual Constructs of Jerusalem

Of all the cities, Jerusalem--the location of Christ's Crucifixion, Resurrection, and future Second Coming--played the most crucial role in the history of Christianity. Although this much is a given, Christian understanding of and engagement with Jerusalem was (and is) constantly in flux. Visual Constructs of Jerusalem--the volume based on a conference by the same name that took place in Jerusalem in 2010--fills an important gap in our knowledge by analyzing how Jerusalem was constructed, primarily in Europe, from Late Antiquity to today with the focus on the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. More specifically, it leaves aside, as much as it is possible to separate the two, celestial Jerusalem and focuses on the evocations of the earthly city. The articles in this volume demonstrate that while Jerusalem was unique, it was also ubiquitous and could be found, in a variety of different ways, in churches and communities throughout Christendom. While scholars, including many of the authors of this volume, have already done much to shed light on this topic, this is by far the most comprehensive, in-depth, and original treatment to date.

The first section, "Loca sancta: Formation and Accumulation of Traditions," explores the gradual creation of history of key sites in and around Jerusalem and accumulation of often conflicting traditions associated with them. Ora Limor's fascinating article details "Marianization" of the Holy Land through the "discovery" of an increasingly large number of sites associated with the Virgin Mary. The last article in this section transports the reader across the Mediterranean to Europe (the ''voyage'' that the reader undertakes, in both directions, several times). Alessandro Scafi's work complements Limor's in that it explores the "translation" of one of the key sites associated with Mary, the chapel of Our Lady of Jehoshaphat, to Subiaco in Italy.

The closely linked second and third sections of the volume are dedicated to "Monumental Translations" and "Strategies of Translation." Several articles make it clear that architectural mimesis, as at Subiaco, was only one of many types of translation. Typographical mimesis, when a series of buildings could be constructed with an eye to Jerusalem, was another. Synecdoche, when one element was supposed to transform the whole into Jerusalem was yet another type. Evocation, when there was no imitation, but a symbolic reminder of Jerusalem, was also common. It is important to note, however, that even when architectural mimesis took place, it was hardly ever question of an exact copy, but of a sophisticated adaptation that took into account local conventions and intended uses.

Several authors in these two sections underscore physical movement--be it of hands and eyes as someone leafed through a manuscript or of the entire body crouching to enter through a low opening of the tomb chamber in an ersatz Holy Sepulcher--as one of the key factors in translations. Several others also note that, through the centuries, many visual constructs of Jerusalem had to do as much with the patrons (or, as in the case of contemporary photographer Leora Laor, the artist) than with the city itself. For example, Kristin B. Aavitsland examines the importance for Scandinavians to demonstrate their links with Jerusalem, especially through participation in crusades. Their goal was to demonstrate that they, relative newcomers, played a key role within Christian oikumene.

Several articles throughout the volume mention the Temple of Jerusalem, and an entire section is dedicated to it. This section discusses not only Christian, but also Jewish and Muslim sources. For example, Sarit Shalev-Eyni analyzes what it meant for medieval European synagogues to be "temporal substitutes" of the Temple. Christian attitudes towards the Temple underwent a dramatic transformation as a direct consequence of the First Crusade. If the Temple was consciously ignored before, it now acquired a central place in Christian piety. As a result, as Eivor Andersen Oftestad demonstrates, the canons of the Lateran Cathedral in Rome went as far as to begin to claim that they possessed the actual Ark of the Covenant.

Oftestad's article provides a transition to the next section, "Relics, Reliquaries, and Ritual." The flow of relics from the Holy Land ranged from something as exalted as the Holy Cross to something as mundane as consecrated soil to something as ephemeral as the so-called Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Back home, these relics, to quote Nikolas Jaspert "translocated sacred space" (230) and helped transform various places into "new Jerusalems." The three themes of this section are closely interconnected. For instance, Alexei Lidov's article demonstrates that translation of Jerusalem to Europe, be it Western or Eastern, took place not only through the transfer of the relic of the Holy Fire, but also through ritual imitations of the miracle of the kindling of the Fire at the Holy Sepulcher and through architectural evocations of the same miracle.

The following ten articles, split into three sections ("Maps of Jerusalem," "Maps of the Holy Land," and ''Mappae Mundi'') could have almost formed a separate volume. The articles show that no map was entirely objective or free from hidden agendas, not even the early modern or modern ones that might be deemed "realistic." The crusades appear frequently as a theme in the articles in these sections. Milka Levy-Rubin analyzes some of the continuities in the cartographical depiction of Jerusalem between Late Antiquity and the period after the First Crusade. Jay Rubenstein, in contrast, discusses some radical new departures that took place in the early twelfth century and as a result of which Jerusalem now became "a microcosm of the entire world" (269). The question that several authors address is why Jerusalem began to be depicted at the center of medieval world maps (the "when" is relatively straightforward--soon after the First Crusade). Marcia Kupfer answers this question convincingly by arguing that at this time Jerusalem emerged as more than just a city, but as "a powerful axis of collective spiritual identity" (465).

The next section, containing just two articles, is dedicated to "Manuscripts and Panel Paintings." These articles, as do many others in other sections of the volume, show the complexity and multivalence of the phenomenon of virtual pilgrimage. The following section, "Pilgrimage Literature and Travelogues" has many affinities with those on cartography. The articles deal with the early modern and modern periods, up to the birth of tourism to Jerusalem.

The last section is dedicated to "Byzantine approaches," although the definition of "Byzantium" here is surprisingly broad, with two out of four articles dedicated to pious practices of Eastern Christians (Armenians, Russians, Macedo-Vlachs) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first two articles deal with different types of translations of Jerusalem to Byzantium. In contrast to what was going on in Western Europe, such translations made pilgrimage to Jerusalem unnecessary for the Byzantines. The other two articles show that Eastern Christians were closer to Western Christians than to the Byzantines in their desire--in some cases, a veritable need--to undertake a journey to Jerusalem.

This is an impressive volume in many ways, most obviously in terms of the number of articles (forty-four!). Assembling such a large number of papers, with up to nine illustrations each, was certainly a Promethean task even for a team of three editors. The fact that quality matches quantity is truly an achievement.

Of course, one could cavil and note the lacunae. One might wish, for example, for a general bibliography and/or a more thorough bibliographical orientation in the otherwise fine introduction. However, most of the lacunae are unavoidable byproducts of the ambition of the volume. The chronological range is no less impressive than its geographical one, at least as far as Europe is concerned. The articles discuss visual sources from countries that are often little known to those working on Western Europe, such as Hungary, Serbia, Russia, and Georgia. The integration of Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus into the discussion is one of the great merits of the volume. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a trend. Also, one hopes that this volume will encourage further studies with an even broader geographical scope. For instance, it would be fascinating to learn more about translations of Jerusalem to, say, Latin America or Africa. Several sub-themes of the volume (such as Jerusalem and liturgy or Jerusalem and Franciscan piety) also point at possible new directions for future studies.

According to the introduction, the volume "is dedicated to the proliferation of Christian Jerusalem in Europe." However, there are several exceptions. In particular, the articles on Jewish and Islamic visual culture make one wonder about how future studies could integrate even more fully visual constructions of Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources.

In short, this volume is an important milestone to which a wide variety of scholars--all those with an interest in medieval or early modern art and medieval or early modern Christianity--will undoubtedly be turning frequently and for a very long time.