The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock, The Omar Mosque in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock, The Omar Mosque in Jerusalem
The Dome of the Rock, The Omar Mosque in Jerusalem
Country of Origin: Isfahan Persia
Comments: Note the green lead dome. From when it was built in 688-691 to 1965 AD the Mosque had a lead dome. In 1965 in a move that the Israelis saw as provocative a gold colored dome was installed. In 1993 it was replaced with a roof coated with real gold. The gold draws far more attention to the dome than the green lead. The name “Omar mosque” is an old name used mostly by Europeans. The edifice in the picture is actually a shrine rather than a mosque but is technically part of the Al Aksa Mosque complex. The dome is significant in that it sits directly over the spot where the Holies of Holies stood. Currently many theologically silly evangelical Christians believe that this structure must be torn down for the second coming of Christ. They get this from the Pre-millennial Heresy, an incorrect reading of scripture.
The Dome of the Rock, The Omar Mosque in Jerusalem
This exquisite watercolour has not been seen in public for over a century. It was executed on Holman Hunt’s second visit to Jerusalem in 1869. The artist’s fascination with the archaeology of the Holy Land was a reflection of his deeply-felt Christian beliefs. This watercolour was, for him, far more than a topographical record, as he made clear in a letter of 10 March 1873 to its London purchaser, the portrait painter Rudolf Lehmann: ‘Whether the Mosque covers the site of the ancient Holy of Holies as some think, or the sepulchre of Christ… is perhaps the most interesting spot on the whole earth’ (MS. John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester).

On his first visit to Jerusalem, 1854-6, Hunt had rented a house inside the city gates. In his diary writing of 7th April 1855 he wrote about his visit to the Dome of the Rock, and professed himself ‘fairly overwhelmed with the solemn beauty’ of the interior. ‘All is sombre, so that at first one can scarcely make out the design – a circle of graceful pillars supporting the dome and an octagonal space without. The inner circle is shut in with a screen and is entered by ascending two or three steps: here one is shown the extensive surface of the natural rock where Abraham offered Isaac on which the Temple was erected’ (M.S.John Rylands).

The impact of this 1855 visit can hardly be over-estimated. In his memoirs Hunt wrote: ‘From the day that Abraham met Melchisedek, this spot has been the theatre of events which have struck deepest roots in the life of humanity. It has been the sanctuary where God’s word has been proclaimed to Jew, Christian,and Moslem….there was not an unsightly nor a shocking object in the whole area, it was guarded, fearingly and lovingly, and it seemed a temple so purified from pollution of perversity that involuntarily the text, ‘ÕHere I will take my rest for ever” rang in my ears.’Õ

On this visit, Hunt would not have been allowed to make any sketches of the interior. But in 1859, owing to intervention by Queen Victoria, Carl Haag was officially admitted to the site – his watercolour entitled The Cave beneath the Holy Rock, Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem was shown at the Old Water Colour Society in 1860. Closer to Hunt’s watercolour is the engraving after Frederick Catherwood’s 1833 view of the outer ambulatory, which was published in 1847 as the frontispiece to James Fergusson’s An Essay on the Topography of Jerusalem. Hunt’s picture was exhibited at the Old Society of Painters in Water Colours in April 1871 with the title Interior of the Mosque Ar Sakara, or Mosque of Omar. The Dome of the Rock was often called the Mosque of ‘Umar by Europeans because it was thought that the caliph ‘Umar, following his acceptance of the surrender of Jerusalem in 638, went to the site of the holy Rock, ordered the cleansing of the site and built the first mosque on or near the Rock itself. Hunt included the following explanatory note in the catalogue:’The rock is within the innermost colonnade, and hidden by the screen connecting the columns. The door approached by the Dervish leads to the cave below’. This describes the right-hand side of the picture, which depicts part of the circular inner arcade of the inner ambulatory encircling the Rock,with three of its 12 columns and its arches characterized by alternating black and white voussoirs. Hunt’s view is taken from the south-east of the outer ambulatory. In the foreground loom two of the 16 columns of red and green marble or porphyry supporting the outer octagonal arcade. Between them, in the centre of the image can be seen, above a third column, two arches decorated with sparkling polychromatic mosaics.

Interior of the Mosque Ar Sakara, or Mosque of Omar was Hunt’s first eastern subject to be exhibited at the Old Water Colour Society, and its ethnographic focus conforms to the manifesto he drew up in Jerusalem and sent to William Michael Rossetti on 12 August 1855: ‘I have a notion that painters should go out, two by two, like merchants of nature, and bring home precious merchandize in faithful pictures of scenes interesting from historical consideration, or from the strangeness of the subject itself.’ In this respect the watercolour can be compared with Hunt’s late oil painting The Miracle of Sacred Fire in the Church of the Sepulchre, Jerusalem (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass). But while Hunt was positively hostile towards the Christian site, he considered the Dome of the Rock, ‘for the mystery of its history, for its architectural features too and its uncontaminated state, as the most precious building in the whole world’.

In the 1871 exhibition, Hunt also showed The Pathless Waters (private collection, England) a sketch of the sea and moonlight executed on his voyage from Brindisi to Jaffa in August 1869. Both warercolours were bought by Rudolf Lehmann, to whom Hunt wrote on 10 March 1873: ‘Thank you for your kind note which encloses the cheque of £204/15….You are more than prompt in paying me before the works are sent home: this however shall be very soon.’ Hunt knew Rudolf Lehmann and his brother Frederick, a partner in an engineering firm and a noted amateur violinist as well as a patron of Albert Moore, through a social network that included Millais, Leighton and the novelist William Wilkie Collins.

The 1st Viscount Leverhulme amassed an important group of works by Holman Hunt. His first purchase was this watercolour but it was not until April 1919 when Hunt’s widow offered Leverhulme the magnificent May Morning on Magdalen Tower, which had been retained by the artist for his own collection, at the price of 5000 guineas. Leverhulme declined, but subsequently purchased the picture when it appeared at Christie’s on 18 July 1919 through Gooden & Fox for 1900 guineas. The most important of all Lord Leverhulme’s paintings by Hunt was of course the prime version of The Scapegoat, which had first been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856. This was bought from the Quileter collection on the 22 June 1923 for 4600 guineas. Both The Scapegoat and May Morning on Magdalen Tower are now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

The 2nd Lord Leverhulme also acquired works by Holman Hunt such as A Tuscan Girl Plaiting Straw from the Austen sale at Christie’s on 10th July 1931. This was one of his earliest independent purchases and clearly shows the influence of his father’s taste.