Israel Museum to show medieval fresco

Largest painting ever excavated in Israel.

June 30, 2010 03:11
2 minute read.
Fresco at the Israel Museum

Israel museum fresco 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The largest painting ever to come out of an archeological excavation in Israel will go on display at the end of July in the newly refurbished Israel Museum, the Antiquities Authority announced on Tuesday.

Measuring nine meters long and 2.7 meters high, and still vibrant in color, the fresco is from one of the walls of the 12th-century Abbey of St. Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat in the Monastery of Miriam.

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The Antiquities Authority, under the direction of regional archeologist Jon Seligman, found the fresco in 1999 during a rescue excavation in Nahal Kidron, a valley on the eastern side of Jerusalem.

“We immediately went out to excavate the sight. It was on the wall of the monastery – it was going to be destroyed by the sewage line and [we] took it for safe keeping at the museum,” Seligman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

However, the process of transporting the fresco to the Israel Museum, as well as repairing and cleaning it took a long time. It took a week to remove its artistic components section by section and to reconstruct them in the museum, and four to five months to repair and clean the fresco itself.

“[We had to] cut it into the pieces and reassemble it like a puzzle,” said Seligman.

The fresco depicts a scene with Jesus sitting in the center, Mary on his right and John the Baptist on his left. Both are pleading with Jesus for forgiveness “for the sake of humanity,” the Antiquities Authority said in a press release. Two additional pairs of legs are shown, seemingly belonging to unpictured angels.

Seligman describes the fresco as also illustrating a vine with acanthus leaves on either side of an inscription written in Latin from Saint Augustine. It reads: “Who injures the name of an absent friend, may not at this table as guest attend.”

The quote is meant to warn the monastery’s monks to avoid gossiping.

“It very exciting to see this fresco, which was just in the store room,” said Seligman. “Now we see its true place. The public can now see what is really an important monument and [have a] unique opportunity to see one of the few frescos that exists in Israel.”

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