MET holds exhibition on the Religious Art of Jerusalem
  • Fri, 12/09/2016
Printer-friendly versionSend to friendPDF version
9 December 2016

“Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven”, at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) depicts art from three great religions for whom that city remains the center of the faith: chronologically Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

All the art of this exhibit comes from the period of the Crusades, when control of the Holy Land went back and forth between Christians and Muslims. Even then, the three People of the Book (as they were and are known) had much in common. Both Jews and Muslims honor Jesus as an interpreter of God’s teachings, and Islam always depicts his mother Mary with respect.

The intricately designed Christian crosses, haggadahs (Jewish prayer books containing the Passover service) and Qur’ans in this exhibit can be appreciated partly for their visual beauty and partly for their sacred significance.

“Jerusalem” doesn’t ignore the violence of the era: It displays censers and swords, in a mix of piety and political power. But it mostly reminds us how much we’d have in common, if we truly studied and applied the ideas of the God we share.

“Jerusalem, 1000–1400” makes a number of salient points, but the essence of the show is this: the battles of the Crusades punctuated long stretches of time when Jerusalem enjoyed relative peace, coexistence, exchanges of ideas and trade, and — to use a word that has gone out of fashion lately — tolerance.

One celebrated picture in the exhibition is an illustration from a medieval Qur'an.

In the illustration, the prophets Abraham and Jesus are welcoming prophet Muhammad to heaven. The horse with a human head is the Buraq, a steed in Islamic traditions who transported the prophets. The three main figures seem to be on fire. Christian painters of the period depicted saints with golden halos; Muslims used flames.

Critics celebrate the painting for debunking two assertions. Fanatics of one kind insist today that Islam does not allow images of Muhammad, but he showed up in Islamic art for a millennium after his death. And fanatics of another kind would claim the three faiths can never meet on a common ground.

Metropolitan Museum medievalists Melanie Holcomb and Barbara Drake Boehm spent five years researching and assembling the exhibit.

The exhibit will be on view through 8 January 2016.


Lawrence Toppman, "Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad party together in heaven" The Charlotte Observer December 9, 2016

Jane Kramer, "A FEAST FOR “JERUSALEM” AT THE MET" The New Yorker December 4, 2016

"Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven" Antiques and the Arts Weekly November 22, 2016