An enormous impressive wall painting (fresco) that was discovered in excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the Monastery of Miriam in the Gethsemane courtyard in Jerusalem, will be displayed for the first time when the renewed Israel Museum opens 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 a nine meter long wall, decorated with a painting of breathtaking beauty. Thanks to a generous contribution by the Friends of the Israel Museum, the painting has been restored by a team of art conservators of the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, headed by Jacques Nagar, and will be placed on exhibit in the museum’s new Crusader period gallery.
According to Seligman, the subject of this wall painting – only the bottom part of which survived and which originally rose to a height of about nine meters – is apparently a scene of deésis (meaning supplication in Greek). This is a known iconographic formula whereby Mary and John the Baptist beseech Jesus for forgiveness, for the sake of humanity. Only the bottom parts of the figures are visible in the main picture: Jesus sitting in the centre, 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 colourful 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 Nagar, “This is one of the most important paintings that 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 Israel Antiquities Authority 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 that were 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 colours reflect the importance of the abbey in the twelfth century, which was under the patronage of the Crusader queen Melisende”.
The renewed Israel Museum will open on 26 July 2010 after a three-year campus renewal project that includes the creation of new entrance facilities as well as a comprehensive reconfiguration of the Museum’s three collection wings designed to enhance visitor experience of the Museum and its campus.