Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (1870)
(54" high x 84" wide)
Frederic Edwin Church
published with permission of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Vortex on the Wall
by Gregory E. Larson
I draw closer to the vista encased in the large frame on the far side of the gallery. The painting, entitled “Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives,” was created in 1870 by American painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). Epic in size and subject matter, it conveys a haunting view of the old city. From the remnants of the ancient olive grove on the hillside northeast of Jerusalem, I view the Dome of the Rock and the stone walls of the city perimeter.
With a surge, I am sucked into a vortex of politics, history, culture and life. I stand in front of the painting at a cross-roads in time…it was meant to be. HDTV can only hope to be this good. The artist’s work seems prophetic and full of tension. An approaching storm charges the atmosphere, while the sunlight pierces and reflects off the luminescent clouds. I feel the glare as I look towards the city and the rooftops.
From a shepherd’s vantage, I see two men who appear to be in a discussion further down the hillside, standing by their camels. The sunlight filters through the olive leaves onto the rough, rocky slopes which are a sharp contrast to the cut stone of the city. The silence of the natural setting is broken with far-off thunder, in the storm clouds on the horizon.
The vortex becomes murky in a whirl of thoughts…Islam, Judaism, Christianity, light and dark, countryside and city, God’s creation, man’s creation, peace and rumblings in the distance. The city walls create a cauldron full of men with conflicting visions and dreams.
One hundred and forty years have passed since the artist created the view of Jerusalem. Did he have a vision of future world politics, or was he inspired by the view of an historic setting? Was I predestined to view the painting at such a crucial time in world history? What will be in the vista one-hundred and forty years from now?
I back away from the painting. I step out from the pull of the vortex and turn to leave the gallery.
The storm clouds drift closer.