The Western Wall originates from the Kotel, or what many regards as the Holy Temple. This revered place is the last portion of the Beit Hamikdash. Just as the name suggests, it is the western wall of the Second Temple. Jews call this place a holy site to pray at because of its prominence and proximity to the Temple Mount. From all around the world, Jews travel here to pray, and many choose to place notes in the wall’s cracks.
This reality makes it easy to understand why many Judaica painters use this holy ground as a muse for their work. Artists paint and decorate the wall in a variety of ways. Some people, like Sarit Stern, employ a palette of numerous shades of one color to depict the Kotel abstractly. Others take the simple route and express the wall as it is. In this guide, we’ll discuss the concept of Western Wall Art and provide valuable information about it. Join us as we take you on this enlightening journey.
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What Is the Western Wall?
As we inferred above, the Jewish people regard the Kotel, often called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall, as a sacred location. Apart from the fact that it’s a famous prayer ground, many Jewish community members also assemble at this location for religious ceremonies.
According to several historical texts, when Herod restored the Second Temple in the first century BCE, he constructed four enormous supporting walls. One of these walls was the Western Wall. On the Temple Mount, Herod built a vast courtyard with the temple at its center.
The Kotel was originally about 30 meters tall and half a kilometer long. It was constructed on top of the original Jerusalemian stones. The area between the walls and the mountain was filled with fillings and arches, and a paved courtyard measuring 144 thousand square meters, or 12 modern soccer fields, was built above them.
The wall’s stones are carved in a manner reminiscent of Herod the Great’s constructions of the time: the stone’s center extends outwards while the stone frame is polished, recessed, and sculpted. Enormous stones from quarries were used to construct the wall. They measure between two and five tons. Each course of rocks on the wall recedes about 3 cm inward from the system underneath it, as may be seen by those standing close to the wall. The goal of this construction technique was to reinforce and support the wall.
The 16th century witnessed the forbidding of Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. They started praying at the wall during this time to represent their love for the temple. A lot of Jews assembled in a little passageway at the base of the wall because they wanted to be as close as they could to the location of the demolished temple. Entry to the wall was restricted from 1948 to 1967 when Jerusalem was split between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan. Many Jewish tourists visited King David’s tomb in Mount Zion throughout this time, intending to view the Temple Mount from the building’s roof and worship at the Western Wall again.
People came in droves to the Jewish Quarter and, of course, the Western Wall shortly after the Six-Day War ended. Soon after, the Mughrabi neighborhood’s dwellings that had been built next to the wall were demolished. The worship square was established in their stead. Yet, even after the temple was destroyed, according to the Sages, this location’s divine presence never left.
Numerous individuals still traveled to this location, which attracted many Jews. Many visitors come here to pray and pay a visit, and many leave notes with wishes in the wall’s crevices. In addition, the Western Wall plaza hosts a variety of rituals and activities year-round, including bar mitzvah celebrations, special prayer services, and IDF soldier swearing-in ceremonies.
What is Western Wall Art?
Western Wall Art, as the name suggests, is a collection of paintings and wall hangings inspired by the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel or the Wailing Wall. The holy essence inspires several artists to come to this sacred place and do their work concerning it. While some painters take an abstract approach to depict this holy ground, others use different methods to remind people of its significance.
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Many Jews decorate their homes, offices, and other spaces with Kotel paintings and Western Wall decor. Because some people cannot visit the sacred site in person, they prefer to incorporate a painting of it into any of their spaces. Not only do these art pieces raise their rooms visually, but they also elevate them spiritually.
Some also install Western Wall decor to remember the divine presence the Kotel carries. As much as they may have been there before, Kotel’s paintings remind them of the prayers and memories they shared there. They also see it as a means of getting closer to the sacred ground.
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What do Western Wall Paintings entail?
A considerable part of Western Wall Art is Kotel paintings. Several painters depicted the Wailing Wall at different times in history. Some of the activities, such as engraving prayers on the walls, were painted. Others were inspired by the Wailing Wall to create works that were unique in their own right.
Many of these artists created works that make people remember the divine significance of the Western Wall and the history, culture, and beauty it holds. Several contemporary artists have also delved into using their works to express parts of this sacred place.
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One of the first and most prominent Kotel paintings is by William Henry Bartlett (1809–1854), titled “Jews’ Place of Wailing.” Between 1834 and 1854, the brilliant British artist and intrepid traveler William Henry Bartlett made six trips to the Levant. Bartlett, regarded as one of the undisputed forerunners of Romantic Orientalism, made many sketches and paintings of scenes from the Bible and illustrated books that focus on the geography of the Holy Land, including his impressions and historical surveys.
Bartlett viewed the remaining portion of the Jewish Temple’s ramparts, sometimes regarded as the Wailing Wall, on his first thorough tour of Jerusalem in 1842. His work, “Jews’ Place of Wailing,” depicts the ruins of an old wall built of massive, atypical stone.
Two artworks titled “Lament of the Faithful at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem” by German artist Gustav Bauernfeind (1848–1904) also carry a similar essence to Barlett’s paintings. These paintings depict Jews dressed with head coverings. Despite their emotional distress, some of them raise their heads and look straight at the wall as if speaking to God on an equal footing.
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Another exceptional example is “Solomon’s Wall,” a magnificent painting that sold for $3,624,000. It was an emotional depiction by a non-Jew who was Russia’s top orientalist. The oil, measuring over 7 feet by 5 feet in size, is one of only a few pieces from the “Palestinian” series that Vasili Vereshchagin (1842–1904) finished between 1884 and 1885, following his year-long trip in the Holy Land. This 1877 painting, “Solomon’s Wall,” by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, which sold for $2.3 million at Christie’s in 1999, stands as one of the most valuable images of the Western Wall.
Vereshchagin depicted the temple ruin as many regards it: a sun-drenched wall crowded with weary pilgrims fervently seeking sustenance and spirituality. In contrast to his fellow Orientalist, who represented only a few figures, he eliminated details that distracted him from his romanticized compositions.
Vereshchagin was clearly touched by the event, as seen by his vivid notes. His paintings expressed how Jews of all sexes and all ages came from all areas of the world to wash the holy stones in their tears.
A lot of artists in today’s world have carried the torch to depict the Western Wall in brilliant and astounding ways. Artists like Gitty Fuchs and Avi Ohayon employ approaches like the abstract to describe the Western Wall in thought-provoking, hauntingly beautiful, mystical, and spiritual practices. Below are some of Gitty Fuchs’s Western Wall paintings:
- Abstract At The Kotel in Grey painting
- Abstract At The Kotel painting
- Abstract Kotel – Grey & Taupe painting
- Abstract Kotel in pearl Green painting
- Abstract Kotel in Taupe and Blues painting
- Abstract Kotel In Teal painting
- Abstract Kotel Pastels painting
Here are a few other Western Wall paintings to check out:
Western Wall art has roots in the spiritual significance of the Kotel. Many Jews return to these artworks as a representation of their identity and history. From Kotel paintings to Western Wall hangings, they also serve as a prayer point for Jews and a spiritual reminder. In today’s world, many Jewish painters have made their works a reflection of this sacred place and given several Jews worldwide artworks to cherish and respect.
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