Getty exhibit captures Holy Land in 19th century photography


LOS ANGELES — The Holy Lands and its surrounding regions are the subject of a new exhibit at Getty Villa in The J. Paul Getty Museum.

"In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in Nineteenth-century Photography," presents images created between the 1840s and the early 1900s of the region known variously as Palestine, western Syria, and the Holy Land. The exhibit, funded by the Villa Council, runs through Sept. 12.

The photography captures life and landscape along the eastern Mediterranean—encompassing what is present-day Israel, Jordan, and parts of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt—the region known as the Holy Land fuses geography with history and belief. The shared legacy of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths formed a space of enormous spiritual significance, curators said in a news release.

According to museum officials, the subjects range from architectural sites to scenes of pastoral life. Because the images are sensitive to light, some will be rotated in and out during the exhibit's run.

According to exhibit literature, the 19th century brought a new group of visitors to the Middle East, primarily Protestant Europeans and Americans who were deeply immersed in the Bible, but who experienced a profound discord between the luminous realm in their imaginations and the forbidding reality of the physical terrain. Expecting to find Jerusalem, "the shining city on a hill," in Palestine, "the land of milk and honey," they encountered a dusty, provincial outpost in an arid country.

Despite the dry and dusty reality, travelers flocked to area, while military and economic aims merged with religious fervor and the advent of archaeology. As visitors increased, the Holy Land became a coveted backdrop for the emerging interest in the new technology of photography. introduced in 1839. Shots included ancient villages nestled in a stony landscape, a once-great city subsiding within its walls, and people repeating patterns of life unchanged over millennia.

Showing pieces from both the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, the collection and features daguerreotypes, salted-paper prints, and albumen silver prints by leading photographers of the time, including Félix Bonfils, Felice Beato, Maxime Du Camp, Auguste Salzmann, James Graham, Louis Vignes, Frank Mason Good, and Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet.

Curators have organized the exhibit into five sections—Views of Jerusalem, Early Photographs, Peoples of the Bible, Travels in Bible Lands, and British and French Expeditions. The images include views of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jaffa, and Petra, as well as Jerusalem landmarks such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Damascus Gate, and the Dome of the Rock.

In addition to the display, numerous lecturers and other events will be presented during the exhibition. Visit the museum website for a listing.

Admission to the Getty Villa is free. An advance, timed ticket is required and can be obtained online or by calling (310) 440-7300.

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