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Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume IV: The art and architecture of the Crusader states

VII: Painting and sculpture in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1291,   pp. 251-280 PDF (16.3 MB)

Page 255

 The most extensive ensemble of crusader work in the church of the Nativity
is on the twenty-eight columns of the nave and aisles where, for the most
part, individual saints' portraits were painted (pl. XXXIb).3 One image,
on column five in the south aisle, depicts the Virgin and Child, and a Latin
painted inscription dates the work to May 15, 1130 (pl. XXXIIIb). Despite
the imposing jeweled throne with a high back on which the Virgin sits, there
is no strong Byzan tine influence here. Instead the stiff linearity of the
draperies and the tender relationship of a mother who gently holds her baby
close to her cheek bespeak a western Romanesque painter, possibly from Italy.
 No particular order for the execution of these works has as yet been proposed.
The suggestion that they were done as ex votos pa tronized by pilgrims to
the Holy Land seems likely. So far, however, precise western parallels have
not been found for such a series of large icons on columns, and no search
for stylistic comparisons has been undertaken. Nor has an explanation been
offered for why the 1130 painting was done in the south aisle and not in
the nave proper. No other dated inscription survives. What is clear is the
wide variety of styles present in the series, suggesting itinerant artists
who worked through most of the twelfth century and possibly longer. 
 On the north side of the church there are no painted images on the columns
of the north aisle. But many of the more strongly Byzantineinfluenced paintings
appear on the north nave columns. On column 10, St. John the Evangelist (pl.
XXXIIb), identified by Greek and Latin inscriptions, wears handsomely painted
Comnenian-style drap eries, strongly modeled and with extensive highlights.
On column 4, St. George (pl. XXXIIa), again identified by both Greek and
Latin inscriptions, is a virile youth with curly golden hair. He stands,
wear ing a long cloak and holding a spear and a shield. His thinly painted
agitated linear draperies are, however, quite different from those of St.
 On the south side St. Fusca, a third-century virgin martyr at Ra venna,
appears on column 10 of the nave (pl. XXXIId), and St. Mar garet, a fourth-century
martyr at Antioch in Pisidia, is on column 7 of 
 3. See above, pp. 120-123. For the column paintings see also the descriptive
surveys by L. Dressaire, "Les Peintures exécutées au XIIe siècle
sur les colonnes de la basilique de Bethléem," Jerusalem, XXVII (1932),
365-369; V. Juhasz, "Las Pinturas de los cruzados en la Basilica de Belén,"
Tierra Santa, XXV (1950), 313-318, 349-353; R. W. Hamilton, The Church of
the Nativity, Bethlehem (reprint of 2nd rev. ed., Jerusalem, 1968), pp. 69-81;
and S. de Sandoli, Corpus inscriptionum crucesignatorum Terrae Sanctae (Jerusalem,
1974), pp. 211-226. Though these paintings are generally referred to as frescoes,
the medium seems to be some kind of oil-base paint applied directly onto
the column. 

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