Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Earliest Known Images of Jesus: Exclusive Dura-Europos Exhibit Installation Photos

The earliest known images of Jesus, from the year 240, are going on view for the first time in New York on Friday.  They're in an exhibition at the relatively obscure NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, which continually puts on small shows that turn accepted ideas of art and culture upside-down.

The exhibition is called "Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos."  It presents 77 objects from an excavation in Syria that rewrote history.

You can read about it exclusively in today's New York Observer.

A sense of the images' scale can be seen in the photograph to the left, which shows them with exhibitions director Dr. Jennifer Chi.

At the top of this post is a photo of two of the wall paintings from the baptistery at Dura, showing the Healing of the Paralytic on the left and Jesus and Peter Walking on Water on the right.  The baptistery wall paintings are "the earliest dated Christian art in existence," said co-curator Dr. Peter De Staebler.

I took the photographs as the show was being installed.

Here's a close-up of the Healing of the Paralytic:

The excavations at Dura also revealed a Jewish figural tradition that had been previously unknown, and thought to be nonexistent, until archaeologists rediscovered a large synagogue whose walls were covered with Bible scenes.  The wall paintings are in Damascus, but the Institute is showing together for the first time ten ceiling tiles from the synagogue that are elaborately decorated with faces, astrological signs, fruit, and pine cones.

Here's a photograph of Capricorn from the synagogue, dated ca. 245.

Dura was a garrison town, and "Edge of Empires" displays some military artifacts.  This detail is of a lion painted on a Roman shield that greets visitors as they enter the second gallery:

"Edge of Empires:  Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europas," NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World," 15 East 84th Street, September 23, 2011 to January 8, 2012.  Admission is free.

Text and images Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert.