|"The Destruction and Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem" Nicolas Poussin 1926|
Nicolas Poussin’s painting “The Destruction and Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem” disappeared from the public eye for 320 years. The painting, upon being found in England, was mistakenly thought to be a work by Pietro Testa, a 17th century Italian painter. At auction, it was bought by a London gallery in 1995 at ten times the Sotheby’s estimate because the gallery doubted the attribution and it was willing to take the risk. During restoration, the work was discovered to be by a colleague of Testa's, the better-known Poussin. It was bought by the Rothschild family and donated to the Israel Museum, bringing about a beautiful symmetry, as the work describes the historical events that were to have taken place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., a mere few kilometers to the east in the same city. The painting now holds pride of place in the Israel Museum Old Masters collection.
Poussin addressed this subject twice, this being the earlier of the two versions, painted in 1926. The second is the 1638 painting, The Destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, which is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Before its installation in the Israel Museum, the earlier work was exhibited at the National Gallery in London. There, in 1999, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, gave a lecture , "A Temple in Flames," on this work and its significance from a Jewish point of view. He said he was,
“in the presence of an embarras de richesse of themes in the history of ideas: destruction and rebirth, exile and return, lamentation and hope, Rome and Jerusalem, Christianity and Judaism, events and their interpretation.”It would be foolish to try and improve on the lecture given by Rabbi Sacks, and it is worth scrolling down the link to read his words, fitting for this week.