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22.02.18 Arad, Christian Maps of the Holy Land

22.02.18 Arad, Christian Maps of the Holy Land

In this book, Pnina Arad offers a creative and richly-informed approach to twelve centuries of Christian cartography of the Holy Land. Her examples range from the sixth-century Byzantine mosaic known as the Madaba Map, to manuscripts produced in the context of Western European pilgrimage and projects for crusade, to printed maps in sixteenth-century Protestant Bibles, and finally to proskynetaria, or commemorative pilgrimage images produced for Greek Orthodox pilgrims in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Arad focuses on a selective group of images (rather than a comprehensive corpus), in order to recuperate the “religious content” (that is, the Christian content) of these maps, a dimension that has been, in her view, largely sidelined in previous scholarship.

Arad makes thoughtful connections between Holy Land cartography and a wide range of scholarly approaches across a broad disciplinary and methodological range. She invigorates our understanding of these maps of the Holy Land using an art historical, or, more accurately, visual culture lens, albeit one with an emphasis on texts and inscriptions. Rather than pursuing tired questions about the purported accuracy of the maps, Arad examines the vision of the Holy Land constructed by them, noting their changing choices of sites and their boundaries. This is a productive and thought-provoking approach, which yields rich interpretations of the maps. Arad makes the choice to refer to “the map” of the Holy Land as a singularity despite the obvious diversity of the images themselves. She defends this as a means of capturing the continuities that endure across contexts and media over space and time. Although she explores some of its variations, the argument that the image of the Holy Land is fundamentally stable casts the depiction of the territory as a kind of icon--not because it was venerated (although it was on some occasions), but because it was understood to have the same kind of mimetic relationship to its referent as an icon did to a sacred figure.

The text moves chronologically and largely monographically to examine the variations of the Holy Land map, with a particular interest in the choice of sites favored in each era, and notably the waxing and waning importance of sites connected to stories from the Old Testament. After a comprehensive introduction, the book is organized into four parts. Part I, “Iconic Landscape, Iconic Map” comprises two chapters; the first, “Formation of a Holy Land” examines how, by the end of the sixth century, the landscape of Palestine came to be understood as a sacred space. Chapter 2, “The Madaba Map: A Visual Portrait of the Holy Land from the Byzantine Period,” examines how the sacred space of Palestine found expression in the form of a map, notably in the now-damaged sixth-century mosaic map in the Church of Saint George in Madaba. Arad sees, in the fragmentary remains of the map, visual and textual elements that refer to sites of importance in both the Old and the New Testaments, a combination that “constructed a religious message,” and served as a “generator of cultural memory” (23). She notes that the map also echoed the assertions of the triumph of Christianity evoked in the decorative programs of Early Christian churches (25) and also the sites that figured in early pilgrimage souvenirs. Her resourceful argument fits the map into the broader iconography of sacred imagery in this period.

Part II “The Map of the Holy Land in the Latin Christian West,” examines the Holy Land map in the context of the Western spirituality and devotional imagery from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. Chapter 3, “Innovative Western Spiritual Iconographies” investigates several different types of maps that emerged in this period, including twelfth-century circular maps of Jerusalem found in manuscripts and fourteenth-century grid maps of the Holy Land that survive in a variety of formats. Arad connects these, and other examples, including Matthew Paris’s mid-thirteenth-century itinerary map in the Chronica Majora, to practices of pilgrimage, and she suggests that such maps may even have inspired practices of virtual pilgrimage. Chapter 4, “Fifteenth-Century Pilgrims’ Maps: Late Medieval Instruments of Devotion,” examines three manuscript and printed maps of the Holy Land that commemorated (or were associated with) journeys to Jerusalem, notably those of Gabriele Capodilista, William Wey, and Bernhard Breydenbach. The maps of these pilgrims, Arad argues, were “up-to-date devotional instruments” (64) permitting contemplation of the life of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Land itself.

The connection of the English pilgrim William Wey to the map that is associated with his name has been subject to some scrutiny, since the map has been dated to the second half of the fourteenth century, while Wey’s other work, a book of itineraries, belongs to the middle of the fifteenth. Yet Arad is persuaded that Wey may nonetheless have owned this map or one like it, despite the differences between its list of sites and the lists of places in the manuscript of the itineraries. The discussion of the map and of Wey’s itineraries also allows Arad to connect the manuscript of the itineraries to the chapel modeled after the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem that Wey established, which included objects he had acquired in Jerusalem, devotional images, a mappamundi and a map of the Holy Land. With this example, and throughout the book, Arad repeatedly argues for the importance of the Holy Land map to devotional practice.

Part III, “Between Pilgrimage and Scripture, Catholicism and Protestantism” examines sixteenth-century images that Arad considers as “transitional,” in their position between diverging Catholic and Protestant practices of faith. Chapter 5, “Friedrich II’s Cartographical Pilgrimage Imagery” extends her argument to objects, primarily images, made in conjunction with the 1493 pilgrimage to Jerusalem of Friedrich III the Wise, Elector and Duke of Saxony. These include a multi-sheet printed map by Lucas Cranach, and a painting by a now-unknown artist, today in Gotha. For both of these images, she considers how shifting confessional sensibilities might have shaped production and consumption. In Chapter 6, “Map and Scripture,” Arad examines the cartographic traditions associated with printed Bibles and biblical scholarship. With the addition of pictorial features, these maps facilitated reading and understanding of the Bible texts, and they emphasized the connections between the Exodus from Egypt and the Passion of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the Old Testament by the New. Arad moves more quickly through some very dense examples in this chapter than elsewhere, but she effectively traces the survival of the Holy Land map and also identifies some unusual iconography, notably “Moses of the Passion,” that seems to bear out her reading of the maps themselves.

In Part IV, “Map as Icon: Greek Orthodox Proskynetaria from the Ottoman Period,” Chapter 7 “Icon of a Land” examines another type of image, the proskynetarion, a large icon and a type of Holy Land souvenir produced in Palestine for Greek Orthodox pilgrims who acquired them, often in multiple copies, as proof of their pilgrimage: one would be displayed in a home shrine, and the other(s) offered to churches or monasteries for more public display and veneration as icons. These images attest to the durability of the Holy Land map as a form, although they often focus more on the arrangement of sacred figures than on the topography itself. They nonetheless retain, in iconic form, an echo of the original Byzantine Holy Land map, first produced over a millennium earlier. Finally, in a brief conclusion, Arad offers a succinct summary of her findings.

In each chapter, Arad examines, and sometimes challenges, previous interpretations of the maps that are her subject, and she makes ample and resourceful use of a wide range of prior research in a variety of fields and in a rich array of languages. She notes the changing preferences for Old and New Testament sites, the presence or absence of human figures, the narratives they enact when they do appear. Although it is selective, there is an almost encyclopedic character to her selective survey. And she makes a concerted effort to document the impact of the Holy Land map on other visual imagery. Holy Land maps are, apart from mappaemundi, the best-known examples of medieval cartography, and they are the earliest examples of regional maps. Arad argues for their importance and their influence, suggesting that “this new type of representation was formulated especially for Palestine and [was] due to the religious uniqueness of the land” (2). She also sees the Holy Land map, and, in particular, its relation to the fifteenth-century images called Passion landscapes, as instrumental in the development of the landscape genre (94). These ambitious claims exemplify Arad’s vision of these maps as central forces in the European imaginary, stimulating and inviting devotion, commemorating pilgrimage, and aiding the reading of the Bible.

Christian Maps of the Holy Land is handsome and well-illustrated. There are eleven color images, which seem to have been chosen because they had rarely (if ever) been published elsewhere, and there are 62 black and white images that are, for the most part, large and clear. But it would have benefited from more robust English-language editing to smooth out some of its awkward or vague phrasing. Arad sometimes slips from speculation to certainty a little more quickly than she might, and some of her ideas could fruitfully be developed in more detail. The book moves monographically, focusing on individual monuments, and so some more robust transitional texts and summaries at the end of chapters would have given more shape to the argument. Nonetheless, the book is a well-developed contribution to the study of Holy Land maps, and it opens some very interesting avenues into cartographic interpretation more broadly. Arad’s wide-ranging approach here will certainly stimulate discussion of and reflection on the ways that our understanding of maps can benefit from examining them as constructed images rather than as records of geographical fact.