Bringing the Holy Land Home: The Crusades, Chertsey Abbey, and the Reconstruction of a Medieval Masterpiece
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery, the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA
Jan. 26 – April 6, 2023
Bringing the Holy Land Home explores the impact of art objects manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean on the visual culture of medieval England and western Europe. At its center are an iconic set of tiles – discovered at Chertsey Abbey outside of London, but probably commissioned and created for London’s Westminster Palace around 1250. These include a famous pair of roundels showing the English king Richard the Lionheart and the Ayyubid sultan Saladin (Salah al-Din) in combat. Excavated from the ruined site of Chertsey Abbey in the 19th century, the fragmented tiles have been the subject of a new reconstruction, meant to readdress their original composition and design. The reconstruction has demonstrated not only that the entire mosaic addressed the theme of the crusades, but also that its design evoked that of imported eastern Mediterranean silks.
Carried home by crusaders, eastern silks, as well as ceramics, metalwork and other items were highly valued by European audiences, who incorporated them into sacred objects, displayed them in places of esteem, and imitated their designs – as was the case with the Chertsey tiles. The composition of the Chertsey floor relies on visual traditions of textiles developed by Muslim and Orthodox Christian artists in the eastern Mediterranean, even while the scenes attend to the theme of English victory over foreign opponents. By pairing the Chertsey tiles with contemporaneous European and eastern Mediterranean objects, this exhibition endeavors to illuminate the specific and complex contexts that informed the tiles’ production and design.
Headed by Amanda Luyster – guest curator and assistant professor of Art History at Holy Cross – both the reconstruction of the Chertsey mosaic and Bringing the Holy Land Home have been supported by the work of an international team. Interpretative materials were written by students from Holy Cross, Clark University, and Boston College, based on substantial research into objects and their cultural roles in the period of the crusades. Students also provided videos and other content to the exhibition website – linked to in the QR codes provided throughout the gallery. The exhibition and associated catalog also feature contributions from prominent scholars in the fields of medieval history and art. Our many thanks go to the faculty, curators, students, and specialists who have not only contributed their expertise to this project but have distinguished this exhibition as a model of cooperative scholarship, expanding across different disciplines, expertise, and experience.
Guest Curator: Amanda Luyster
Gallery Director: Meredith Fluke
Supporters and Contributors:
Deborah Coleman Diggins and Timothy W. Diggins
Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
International Center of Medieval Art
Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture
National Endowment for the Humanities
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Dumbarton Oaks Collection
Harvard University Art Museums
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Morgan Library & Museum
Worcester Art Museum
All contributors to the site can be found here