A New Exhibition of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Art Spanning 200 Years in Spain

Big American museums, Holland Cotter argues, tend to present devotional art “purely in aesthetic terms,” with little or no attempt to explain the spiritual, political, or ideological meaning they held for their original audiences. This is not the case, however, for the Met Cloisters’ exhibit on the religious art of Spain at the start of the 11th century, which also reflects the often-peaceful exchanges of culture among three major religions:

Politics, and specifically geopolitics, is the underlying subject of Spain 1000-1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith at the Cloisters. The show is a classic Met product. Its 40-plus objects—sculptures, textiles, manuscripts, most from the museum’s holdings—are top-shelf items, distinguished by outstanding rarity, beauty, or both. And in their Cloisters setting, the element of faith is writ large.

The show is installed in the museum’s Fuentidueña Chapel Gallery, a space defined by a full-scale architectural work, the complete apse of the 12th-century church of San Martín from the town of Fuentidueña in central northern Spain. The apse was transported, stone by stone, to the Cloisters in the late 1940s as a long-term loan from the Spanish government. With its high, clean Romanesque lines, and a fresco of the Virgin and Child (from a different church) spanning its dome, it’s a charismatic backdrop for a presentation of art from an era in which three religions shared highly contested terrain. . . .

The notion of three major faith-based cultures interacting peaceably and productively has an attractively utopian spin. And the art in the Met show, with its hybrid beauties, to some degree backs it up.

In a manuscript painting at the Cloisters, a 10th-century Christian monk named Maius makes the Heavenly Jerusalem look a lot like the Great Mosque of Cordoba. A 14th-century Hebrew Bible shimmers with Islamic interlace patterns. Islamic textiles, some with Arabic inscriptions, were used to wrap the relics of Christian saints. A sapphire embedded in a spectacular silver frame surrounding an ivory crucifix is inscribed with four of the 99 Beautiful Names of Allah.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Art, Islam, Jewish art, Medieval Spain

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria