Modern artists’ renderings of Jerusalem are deeply informed by the complex religious, political, and cultural history of the city. In art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Jerusalem appears not so much as a geographical city as a palimpsest, constructed from layers of meanings developed over centuries. Yet, while these artistic re-makings of Jerusalem unavoidably allude to the city’s long and complex past, many also respond to its most recent and highly turbulent past.
Jerusalem’s modern identity has been highly contested. Following a period of considerable persecution of Jewish communities in the latter part of that century, thousands of Russian Jews fled to the Promised Land; in Europe the Zionist movement developed in support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In 1917, Great Britain pledged its support, agreeing to help facilitate the establishment of a Jewish state. The British Empire’s support and a rapid increase in the Jewish population of Palestine over the next four decades, combined to create considerable tension with the Arab population already resident in Palestine, including several outbreaks of violence.
In 1948 the United Nations attempted to partition the land between a majority-Arab Palestine and a new, majority-Jewish Israel. Jerusalem was divided, with Israel controlling the western part of the city and Palestine controlling the east. But the allocation of the land—including access to holy sites such as the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—have remained strongly contested. In the subsequent decades Jerusalem has witnessed continual clashes as well as ongoing efforts to broker peace. While recognizing the city’s continuing and deep divisions, a number of the representations of the city in this collection express their hopes for reconciliation in the earthly city; others seek out a distant heavenly sanctuary, a New Jerusalem.