An impressive 9m X 2.7m fresco discovered in excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the Monastery of Miriam in the Gethsemane courtyard in Jerusalem was put on display for the first time when the renewed Israel Museum opened its doors to the public on July 26, 2010.
During salvage excavations next to the Garden of Gethsemane in 1999, under the direction of IAA Jerusalem region archaeologist Jon Seligman, several buildings dating to the twelfth century that were part of the Abbey of St. Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat were uncovered, including this fresco of breathtaking beauty. The painting was restored by a team of art conservators and will be on exhibit in the museum’s new Crusader period gallery.
The subject of this wall painting – only the bottom part of which survived – is apparently a scene of deésis (supplication in Greek). This is an iconic representation in which Mary and John the Baptist beseech Jesus for forgiveness on behalf of humanity. Only the bottom parts of the figures are visible in the main picture: Jesus sitting in the center, with Mary to his right and John the Baptist to his left. Two other pairs of legs, probably those of angels, can be seen next to Mary and John. In the middle of the painting are colorful floral tendrils on either side of which is a Latin inscription of a saying by Saint Augustine, “Who injures the name of an absent friend, may not at this table as guest attend.” Based on this, the painting probably adorned the wall of a dining room in the monastery with the maxim apparently intended for visitors who dined at the monastery, rather than the Benedictine monks who refrained from unnecessary conversation.
According to Jacques Nagar, head of the conservation team, “This is one of the most important paintings to have been preserved from the Crusader period in Israel. The painting is the largest to come out of an archaeological excavation in the country and the treatment the painting underwent in the laboratories of the IAA was, from a conservation standpoint, among the most complicated ever done here. This wall painting is special because of its size and quality. It measures 9 meters long and 2.7 m high, and is extremely rare because very few wall paintings have survived from the Crusader churches built in Jerusalem during the Crusader period. The excellent quality of the painting was in all likelihood the workmanship of master artists and the vibrant colors reflect the importance of the abbey in the twelfth century.”
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