The Entry into Jerusalem by Unknown artist, Egypt

Unknown artist, Egypt

The Entry into Jerusalem, c.1300, Cedar wood, 31 x 13.1 cm, The British Museum, London, 1878,1203.3, The Trustees of the British Museum / Art Resource, NY

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Image and Christology

Commentary by

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.

While images of the Entry into Jerusalem celebrate the manifestation of Christ’s divine glory, most Christians will know that the story also marks the beginning of the Passion narrative. Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives, from where he will ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9–12), knowing that in proceeding towards Jerusalem he also moves towards his crucifixion on Golgotha (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17). In the carved scene shown here, which is part of a set of ten relief panels that decorated the double doors of the sanctuary screen from the Hanging Church in Cairo, the artist has skilfully combined these two moments of triumph and death into a single image.

Instead of riding towards Jerusalem, as he does in the other two works in this exhibition, Christ is shown sitting side-saddle on a colt on top of a tree which alludes to the cross of the crucifixion and the tree of life in Genesis (2:9) and Revelation (2:7; 22:2). This reading is based on Peter (Acts 5:30) and Paul (Galatians 3:13) who refer to the cross as a ‘tree’. The reference to the crucifixion is reinforced by the small cross on Christ’s nimbus.

Notwithstanding the allusion to the crucifixion, the scene on the panel emphasizes Jesus’s triumph over death rather than his human suffering. This impression is strengthened by the fact that the donkey has an unnaturally curved back, probably thus creating a visual parallel with depictions of the Maiestas Domini where Jesus sits on a globe. By presenting Jesus as an enthroned ruler suspended above a crowd of onlookers, the panel ultimately presents the Entry into Jerusalem as a prefiguration of the Second Coming (Matthew 24:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

 

References

Hunt, Lucy-Anne. 1989. ‘The Al-Mu Allaqa Doors Reconstructed: An Early Fourteenth-Century Sanctuary Screen from Old Cairo’, Gesta, 28.1: 61–77


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