Category Archives: Art

Visit Palestine with Shmuel

VisitPalestineWalking through the Arab shuq you might notice graphic posters displayed in a number of shops. Perhaps one of the most striking says VISIT PALESTINE with a graphic of the Haram el-Sharif. Two of the most popular places to visit in Palestine are Bethlehem and Jericho. I am now authorized to guide there so you can now visit Palestine with me.

Interesting thing is that the poster is not contemporary, not by a Palestinian artist or graphic designer and in fact, has nothing to do with “Palestine”, meaning the West Bank and Gaza. The poster is from 1936 when the whole area was Palestine under the British Mandate and the poster was designed by an Austrian Jewish artist living in Tel Aviv.

Moving from Vienna to Berlin to Paris and then Barcelona, Franz Krausz and his wife Anni managed to flee Europe, came to Palestine in 1934 and settled in Tel Aviv. Krausz was a pioneer of art for advertising and designed posters for Israeli companies like Dubek cigarettes and Elite, the chocolate and candy manufacturer. Krausz most dynamic and colorful work was hand-painted gouache, sometimes based on photographic studies shot by his wife. My good  friend and artist, Bob Gottlieb is living in Louisville, KY with my photograph of the “Petrified Trees” in the Large Makhtesh from my calendar and is planning to do a painting of the scene. Anyone else interested in trying their hand at painting from my photographs? For an example of a photograph and painting of the same scene, see my post on Banias stream.

The “Visit Palestine” poster is Krausz’ best-known image, with just those two words in English, no Hebrew or Arabic, done using only six colors. On the left foreground of the poster is a tree in silhouette, perhaps an olive, or oak or carob, framing a view of the Haram el-Sharif and Dome of the Rock, even the Dome of the Chain is shown, with Jerusalem behind – the view of the city is from the Mount of Olives. Although prolific and one of Israel’s most-accomplished graphic designers Krausz made very little money from his frugal clients.

ComeSeeIsraelYou might notice two other graphic posters in the Arab shuq. One, with English and Hebrew, has the words Tourism in Palestine as the caption at the top (in Hebrew, the text is Tourism in the Land of Israel). The main image is a gentleman, dressed in white, with a British explorer hat and high boots pointing at a map of Palestine, ostensibly a guide.

Around the main image are small icon-like drawings of places of interest (certainly a peculiar list of sites for a tour), on the left:

  • Mosque of Omar, ie. Dome of the Rock
  • Herzliah, ie. Herzliah gymnasia (high school in Tel Aviv)
  • Cave of Machpelah
  • the town of Rishon LeZion

on the right:

  • Tower of David
  • Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem
  • Rachel’s Tomb
  • Metulah

The poster is an advertisement for “The Association of Jewish Guides, Properly Trained In All Subjects That Make a Good Guide, Is At Your Service Fixed Rates Apply to the Office” and to encourage the purchase of craft items made in the Holy Land in order to help it’s economy and the artists who lived here.

Come to PalestineThe other poster has Come to Palestine on the bottom. It has the words “Society for the Promotion of Travel in the Holy Land” across the top, with two circles, icons of the Dome of the Rock and Tower of David (like the previous poster). Below is an idyllic painting of a palm tree overlooking Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee with a snow-capped Mount Hermon in the distance, with shepherds sitting on the hillside beside an almond tree with blossoms. The scene is viewed through a horseshoe arch, the arch starts to curve inwards above the level of the capital or impost, a form developed during the early Islamic period.

Under the painting is a quotation from Song of Songs 2:11 For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone…

The whole thing, both Biblical and Zionist themes, is done in a style influenced by the European jugendstil (similar to Art Nouveau) and by traditional Persian and Syrian styles. Both posters were designed by Zev Raban of the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem in the mid 1920’s to promote tourism to Palestine.

Under the influence of Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel Academy, Raban moved to Palestine in 1912 during the wave of immigration known as the Second Aliyah. He joined the faculty of the Bezalel school, and soon took on a central role there as a teacher of repoussé, painting, and sculpture. He also directed the academy’s Graphics Press and the Industrial Art Studio. By 1914, most of the works produced in the school’s workshops were of his design.

For other examples of Raban’s graphic work reproduced on ceramic tiles visit Bialik House in Tel Aviv. At the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Allenby Street, Lederberg House also has some ceramic murals: a Jewish pioneer sowing and harvesting, a shepherd, and Jerusalem with a verse from Jeremiah 31:4, “Again I will rebuild thee and thou shalt be rebuilt.”

Bethesda Pool and Church of Santa Anna

Near Lion’s Gate is a large wooden door that gives access to the White Fathers’ compound and one of my favorite sites in Jerusalem’s Old City – Bethesda pools and the Church of Santa Anna.

Mary (mother of Jesus) was born to Anna and Joachim who lived near the Bethesda pools.  Because Jerusalem is on the edge of the Judean desert water has always been crucial for the residents of the city and the first pool was built in the 8th century BCE, when a dam was built across the valley, collecting rain runoff in a reservoir (40×50 meters), known as the Upper Pool. A sluice-gate in the dam allowed the water height to be controlled, and a rock-cut channel brought the water into the city. Around 200 BCE, the channel was enclosed, and a second pool (50×60 meters) was added on the south side of the dam.

Bethesda pool

In the 1st century BC, natural caves to the east of the two pools were turned into small baths, as part of an asclepieion, a healing temple. As it was outside the city walls, scholars think it likely that the Roman garrison of the nearby Antonia Fortress built the site as they would have been able to protect it. According to Christian tradition the site is one of two places in Jerusalem where Jesus performed a miracle, healing a paralytic of 38 years (John 5:1-15).

In the mid 1st century CE, Herod Agrippa built the third wall enclosing the northern area of the city and bringing the asclepieion within the walled city. When Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, he placed a roadway along the dam, and expanded the asclepieion into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis. In the Byzantine period, 5th century, a large church was built on the dike, requiring support of two rows of arches.

After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Byzantine church, destroyed by the Persians in 614 CE, rebuilt by patriarch Modestus and destroyed in 1009 by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim, was rebuilt on a smaller scale. A new Romanesque church, named for Saint Anne was completed in 1138 CE by Arda, widow of Baldwin I, the first Crusader King of Jerusalem, built over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary. After the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin it was transformed into a school for Islamic jurisprudence. Over time, the buildings fell into ruin. In 1856, the Ottomans, in gratitude for French support during the Crimean War gave the site to France. It was subsequently restored, but the majority of what we see today is original.

Santa Anna interiorThe three-aisled basilica incorporates cross-vaulted ceilings and columns, clean lines and an unadorned interior. Because of the fine stonework and large volume of the church the acoustics are amazing. The altar is by the French sculptor Philippe Kaeppelin – on the front of the altar are depicted the Nativity, the Descent from the Cross and the Annunciation; on the ends the teaching of Mary by her mother and her presentation in the Temple.

Kaeppelin altar

Photo of the Week – Banias Stream

Last week I was guiding on the Golan, the weather was glorious and we hiked to the Banias waterfall in the Mount Hermon (Banias) nature reserve. If you haven’t been there for a while, the parks authority has installed a wooden walkway where you walk just above the Banias stream. FYI, the same admission fee also gives you entrance to the Banias archaeological park.


The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon D70 digital SLR and 18-200mm lens in September (ISO 200, 18mm, F7.1 at 1/30 sec).

The Banias Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon and flows powerfully through a canyon for 3.5 km, eventually cascading over a cliff, not the highest but probably the most impressive waterfall in Israel. Nine kilometers from its source, the stream meets the Dan and together they form the Jordan River that flows into the Sea of Galilee.

From Banias we drove to the village of Nimrod, the highest settlement in Israel at 1110 meters to taste some artisan cheeses at the Witch’s Cauldron and Milkman restaurant. On display were some oil paintings by the artist Diego Goldfarb (whose gallery is next door) – I liked  one of the Banias stream (photo taken with my iPhone). If there are any artists out there who would be interested in doing paintings from my photos please contact me.


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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Crusader Jerusalem

A reader asked me to post something about the Crusaders in Jerusalem. I am happy to and also to lead tours focussing on the Crusader period.

Raymond of Aguilers, who wrote a chronicle of the First Crusade (1096–1099), relates that on the morning of June 7, 1099, the Crusaders reached the summit of Nebi Samuel, from which they saw Jerusalem for the first time. The elated Crusaders fell to the ground and wept with joy, calling it Mons Gaudi, mount of joy. The same day they reached the walls of Jerusalem.

Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph as Crusader

With insufficient troops and supplies and rumor of a Fatimid advance, the Crusaders could not besiege the city for long but had to organize a direct assault.  After about a month they were able to get skilled builders and wood by cannibalizing Genoan ships that had arrived at Jaffa port for siege towers. This enabled the Crusaders to breach the walls in 3 places on July 15th. The Crusaders massacred most of the Muslims and Jews and evicted the remainder leaving Jerusalem almost uninhabited until Christians could be encouraged to settle there. On 22 July, a council was held in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that chose Godfrey as the princeps for the newly created Kingdom of Jerusalem which became an important Christian center.

Crusader sites in Jerusalem

In 1160 the Crusaders added a glacis to the tower at the Citadel and dug a moat around it.

The Roman Cardo was subdivided into 3 covered markets: Vegetable or Spice market, Market of Malcuisinat and Covered market – this property was donated to the convent at Santa Anna. Nearby along David St. today, was the poultry market selling eggs, milk, cheese.

The Crusaders built a church in Kidron valley that contained the Tomb to the VIrgin Mary  and Queen Melisende was buried there. Beside it was Gethsemane and a Barluzzi church in 1920s was built on earlier Byzantine and Crusader ruins.

The remains of the Church of Mary of Latina can be seen in part of the German Lutheran Church of Redeemer that was dedicated in 1898 during the German Kaiser’s visit.

Capitals outside German Lutheran churchClose by is the Church of Holy Sepulcher, rebuilt by the Crusaders and dedicated in 1149. The sculpted marble panels on lintels over the two main doors, in Romanesque style, are now in the Rockefeller museum.

Ascension of Jesus Crusader mosaicOn the ceiling of the Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross (11th station) is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the building. Small geometric-shaped pieces of marble inlaid in the floor is a style known as Cosmati or Cosmatesque a traditional technique from the Crusader period though it was done when the chapel was renovated in 1937 by Barluzzi.

There are Hospitaler sites in the Muristan and German knights in the Jewish quarter, remains of a hospice, hospital and church, St. Mary of Germans.

Up on the Haram el-Sharif, the Knights Templar, used the Al Dome of AscensionAqsa mosque, called Templum Solomonis by the Crusaders, and the underground arches of Solomon’s stables. The Dome of the Rock functioned as a church, Templum Domini. A short distance to the northwest, is the Dome of the Ascension, which served as its baptistery. The Dome of the Chain to the east was a Christian chapel to St. James.

If you have the chance, visit the Temple Mount Sifting Project to try some hands-on archaeology and take the opportunity to see artifacts like arrowheads, coins and relics from the Crusader period.

At Bethesda Pools is the ruins of a Crusader chapel, Mary of Bethesda, built on the ruins of a much larger Byzantine church from the 5th century named for St. Mary (Church of the Probatica) and the Church of Santa Anna, one of the most exquisite examples of Crusader architecture in the country.

Santa AnnaOn Mount Zion, the German Dormition Abbey was built on the ruins of the Crusader church of St Mary of Mount Zion which includes an upstairs room which can be visited today, the Coenaculum or Room of the Last Supper.

The Crusaders built many buildings which affected the city’s image, adding a Christian flavor to the 450 year old Muslim city and many of these changes can still be seen in the Old City today.

Photo of the Week – Negev Brigade Monument

On a hill to the east of the city of Beersheba in the Negev desert is a monument in concrete by Israeli sculptor, Dani Karavan. The memorial is to the soldiers of the Palmach’s Negev Brigade who died in the 1948 Arab Israeli war. This photo is a closeup of one of the 18 sculptural parts that make up the monument, a tunnel that appears as a spiral of rectangles – someone had left an Israeli flag on the floor.

Negev Brigade monument, by Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon E4300, a digital point and shoot camera in March (ISO 100, 8mm, F2.8 at 1/37 sec).

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Herod – Design and Realpolitik

The New York Times article reporting on the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum concludes with my comments.

Shmuel Browns, a tour guide and expert on Herodium who helped Netzer excavate the site as a volunteer, said he was awed by the meticulous reconstruction, particularly of a large basin adorned with several heads that was found in pieces in two disparate places at the site, now an Israeli national park.

“They’ve built things from what was found that you could never imagine from what you saw at the site,” Mr. Browns said. “The message is very, very strong about who Herod is and what he did. He wasn’t intimidated by topography, he wasn’t intimidated by material, he wasn’t intimidated by lack of water.

“He’s a fascinating character,” Mr. Browns added. “He just got very, very bad press.”

Silenoi headsWhile excavating Lower Herodium, archaeologist Ehud Netzer found marble pieces of a wash basin in the bath-house, including a pair of Silenoi heads – the companion and tutor of the wine god, Dionysos. Conceivably, it was a gift from the Emperor Augustus that his deputy Marcus Agrippa presented to Herod, on his tour of Judea in 15 BCE and installed as a fountain. Imagine this fragile and heavy object making its journey from Greece to Rome to Judea and the bath-house at Herodium. The conservation staff of the museum painstakingly reconstructed the basin with its ornate decoration.

Greek 3-footed basin

Though it is not known to what degree Herod observed traditional Jewish practices, he appears to have respected them. Aside from this basin, no other human images, in sculptural form, have been found in any of Herod’s palaces.

Loggia trompe l'oeil painting

Boat billowed sailWhen Netzer excavated above the theater at Herodium he found the loggia, the VIP box for Herod and his guests, like Marcus Agrippa. Delicate trompe l’oeil paintings were on the walls, done in secco – painting on dry plaster, a technique unusual for this area. Scenes of nature through a painting of an open-shuttered window, itself a painting hanging on the wall. Dudi Mevorah, one of the curators of the exhibit, pointed out a painting of a boat with billowing sail on plaster from the loggia, alluding to Marcus Agrippa’s history-changing victory over Mark Anthony at the naval battle of Actium. Herod dictated the images in the paintings as a lead-in to the discussions that Herod was interested in having with his guest.

Herod the Great: The King’s Last Journey is a monumental exhibit that should not be missed. It gives us new insights into the very complex figure that is Herod, his determination not be constrained by nature, topography or materials and his consummate grasp of realpolitik.