Photo Essays

Captivating Objects from the Met’s Sprawling Exhibition on Medieval Jerusalem

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York takes an on-the-ground view of life, war, and devotion in Jerusalem during the medieval era.

12th-century capital made for the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, on view in Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven, closing January 8, is one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s sprawling historical exhibitions, but the objects themselves on view are subdued. A case of delicate Arabic astrolabes are some of the first of the 200 artifacts visitors encounter, followed by personal totems of devotion like portable crosses from Ethiopia, a 13th-century pilgrim’s souvenir diptych of the Virgin Mary, and a 14th-century Jewish wedding ring topped with the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem.

These represent an interior spiritual life in contrast to Jerusalem’s monumental houses of worship. Then there are the lentil pots, gold coins, and textile wares, reminders that the sacred city was as much a medieval crossroads of commerce as religion. This perspective on everyday people illuminates how Jerusalem as a geographical place has long been internationally diverse, while the city as an idea instigated carnage in its Crusades and Holy Wars.

Among the most captivating items are five capitals sculpted in the 1170s for the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Never installed, likely due to Saladin’s siege in 1187, they were exhumed from their burial places in the 20th century. The dynamic apostles, demons, and the Virgin Mary processing across the limestone, and their endless motion, seem to embody the constant flow of people through Jerusalem’s fluctuating boundaries.

Arabic astrolabe (1073, Andalusia), designed by Muhammad ibn Sa’id al Sabban
Installation view of Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven
Reliquary with the Finding of the Cross (1160, Meuse River valley), gilded copper, émail brun, champlevé enamel, gems, and rock crystal
Bowl with a woman spinning (13th century, Brindisi), tin-glazed earthenware
Copper crosses from Ethiopia (left from the 15th century, right from the 14th century)
Pot for cooking lentils (11th century, Caesarea), brass
Installation view of Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven
Military saint on horseback (12th century, Abbey of Saint Mary in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, Jerusalem), black charcoal on plaster
A knight of the d’Aluye Family, from his tomb in the Cistercian Abbey of La Clarté-Dieu (after 1248-by 1267, Loire Valley), limestone
Installation view of Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven
Double capital with griffins (1140-50, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem), marble
Installation view of Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven
Installation view of Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven
Chasse of Ambazac, from the Treasury of Grandmont (1180-90, Limoges), gilded copper, champleveé enamel, rock crystal, semiprecious stones, faience, and glass

Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through January 8.

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