Two paintings with the same title, The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, painted by Poussin and Hayez, depicted the horror of violence and the need for peace centuries ago, remaining highly relevant in these challenging days. 

War. Death. Destruction. Once again terror. Gaza under attack. Hamas’ rockets on Ashkelon, sirens in Tel Aviv, rockets between Israel and Lebanon. The horror returns.

The siege is total. No electricity, food, gasoline. Too many bodies have been found dead. Hamas versus Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinians versus Israelis. A conflict that never seems to end.

Israel is history, religion, timeless beauty. It is a land so fascinating that art narrates it through more than copious artistic production: Giotto, Gustave Doré, Marc Chagall, Rembrandt, James Tissot, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and even Duccio di Buoninsegna, among many others. 

Today, more than ever, the painting by Nicolas Poussin depicting the episode of the Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem seems highly relevant to us. It is a work that tells of the past but comes back to us in these days as a powerful news story, like one of the many photo stories we see on all the front pages of newspapers or in television reports.

Poussin, a skilled master of the 17th century, conveys the violence of the soldiers through his skillful and sensual lines, warm colors, and intense shadows. All these elements amplify the horror and underscore the power of the bodies that fight and destroy. The lances become rockets, the horses turn into tanks, the swords are bombs, but the screams and despair are exactly the same, the same as what we see today.

Francesco Hayez, The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, 1867

Francesco Hayez, a 19th-century Italian painter, tells the same in his painting. Again the temple, again Jerusalem, again pain and terror, with the same title: The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The smoke of devastation fills the scene, lifeless bodies tormented by endless violence. The white of the walls and architecture fills the scene, thus contrasting sharply with the black smoke of the battle and the red garments of some depicted figures and the red plumes of the soldiers’ helmets. A perfect chromatic tension which fuels horror, making room for the narrative of impending destruction. An escalation that starts from the bottom and reaches the top of the painting, reconnecting among the falling bodies and those that have already fallen.

“We support Israel taking necessary and proportionate action to defend its country and protect its people,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson clarified.

We would like to say loudly that we support peace, we support dialogue, and we oppose war. 

Opening image: Nicolas Poussin, The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, 1637

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