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T'oros Ṙoslin

Entry into Jerusalem, from T'oros Roslin Gospels, 1262, Manuscript illumination, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; March 1935, given to The Walters Art Gallery by Mrs. Henry Walters, W.539, fol. 174r, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Unknown Ethiopian artist

Entry to Jerusalem, from the Kebran Gospels, c.1375–1400, Manuscript illumination, Kebran Gabriel Church, Lake Tana, Ethiopia; MS Tanasee 1, Photo: © Michael Gervers, 2006

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

Visions of Jerusalem

Comparative Commentary by

The three images featured in this exhibition, although separated by about a century, have a lot in common.

First, they all had a liturgical function and were used in churches that adhered to the Oriental Orthodox tradition, where they would have played an important part in the construction and maintenance of a communal identity.

Second, they present a narrative which escapes the conventional bonds of time and space: in the T'oros Roslin Gospels an Old Testament prophet is presented as a witness to a New Testament event; in the Kebran Gospels an episode that occurred in Jericho is situated in front of the gates of Jerusalem; and in the panel from the Hanging Church the viewer is directed towards Christ’s redeeming sacrifice upon the cross and his Second Coming. The representational approach which characterizes these three scenes is based on a concept of history that owes much to biblical exegesis and that conceptualizes the past not as a linear sequence of moments but as a series of interlinked and supernaturally guided events. For this reason, despite their similarities, the three images work like a commentary and lead the viewer to different interpretations of the same theme through subtle variations in content.

In this respect, it is interesting to focus on the distinctive ways in which Jerusalem is represented in the three images. In the T'oros Roslin Gospels the gate of the city is surmounted by two small buildings and a ciborium. This ciborium, which often appears above Jerusalem in medieval Armenian miniatures, evokes the aedicule built around the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:59–60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; John 19:41–42) inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The motif plays on the ideological relationship between the Temple of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which came to be regarded as the new Temple of Jerusalem after the fourth century. Therefore, the city towards which Jesus advances in the T'oros Roslin Gospels represents the historical Jerusalem as well as the New Jerusalem described in the visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40–48) and John of Patmos (Revelation 3:12; 21:2, 10).

In the Ethiopian miniature from the Kebran Gospels, the Entry into Jerusalem is situated within an ambiguous space where inside and outside are not clearly distinguished. On the one hand, we see a series of small buildings above the arched gate to the right. On the other hand, there are lamps hanging from the upper frames of the two panels and columns behind the group in procession. The figure bent over a manuscript in front of Jesus provides a key for understanding this spatial ambivalence: the image has two dimensions, one represents the biblical story, the other its liturgical re-enactment. In the Kebran miniature Jerusalem stands not only as a symbol for the earthly and heavenly city but also as the ‘mother’ of all churches (Galatians 4:26).

Finally, in the carving from the Hanging Church in Cairo, Jerusalem is not even represented. How do we explain this omission? The answer lies in the original function of the panel which was part of a set of carvings that decorated the double doors of a sanctuary barrier of a Coptic Church. Medieval Coptic authors describe the church sanctuary as being the tabernacle, the holy of holies, and an image of the heavenly Jerusalem. It follows that the doors to the sanctuary represent the gates of the New Jerusalem and of the new Temple. Thus, the artist of the panel did not need to represent Jerusalem because the scene decorated a set of doors which symbolized its gates and that were placed in front of the sanctuary that was taken to represent heaven. The function of the panel showing the Entry into Jerusalem, combined with the eschatological references discussed elsewhere in this exhibition, adds a layer of meaning to the detail of the tree, which can now additionally be understood in the light of Revelation 22:14: ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates [emphasis added]’.

 

References

Bolman, Elizabeth S. 2006. ‘Veiling Sanctity in Christian Egypt: Visual and Spatial Solutions’, in Thresholds of the Sacred: Architectural, Art Historical, Liturgical, and Theological Perspectives on Religious Screens, East and West, ed. by Sharon E. J. Gerstel (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks), pp. 73–106

Frazer, Margaret E. 1973. ‘Church Doors and the Gates of Paradise: Byzantine Bronze Doors in Italy’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 27: 145–62

Gnisci, Jacopo. 2014. ‘Picturing the Liturgy: Notes on the Iconography of the Holy Women at the Tomb in Fourteenth- and Early Fifteenth-Century Ethiopian Manuscript Illumination’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 78.3: 557–95

Ousterhout, Robert. 1990. ‘The Temple, the Sepulchre, and the Martyrion of the Savior’, Gesta, 29.1: 44–53