The Western Wall

The Western Wall

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© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: April 2012

Historical context

A pupil of Delacroix (to whom his career as a "traveling painter" in the East perhaps owes a lot), Bida embarked for the East at the age of thirty and visited Greece, Turkey and Syria. It was on this occasion that he undertook the large drawing of Malmaison which was presented at the Salon of 1857 with a Refectory of Greek monks following his visit to Mount Athos. This choice reflects on his part a scrupulous attention to high places of spirituality which will be verified later in his work as an “authentic” illustrator of the Bible undertaken in 1860 for the publisher Hachette, who sent him to collect the archaeological material and ethnographic required in Palestine.

Image Analysis

Bida chose to banish the shimmering color from his vision of the Orient, where his colleagues - not all of them, if we think of Fromentin - instead favored a flamboyant palette. Critics, thus Baudelaire dealing with the Salon of 1859, felt the grandeur of this project of a restitution of a severe Orient which evoked the poetry specific to Rembrandt's work as an engraver (whom Bida greatly admired) at the same time as he promised to achieve, through patient work on all the shades of gray separating black from white, greater veracity in the representation of the places described. This vision of the Western Wall is, moreover, very remarkable for its subject, which the designer seems to have been among the first, if not the first, to deal with, paving the way for an infinity of artists who contributed to making the vestige of the ancient walls of Jerusalem one of the most iconic places in the Middle East.


Particularly attentive to Christian sites and unable to free themselves from their contempt, the countless modern travelers who had embarked on the path opened by Chateaubriand in his Route from Paris to Jerusalem (the latter nonetheless dedicates an unforgettable passage to the Jews of the holy city) had until then hardly considered this sacred place of Judaism. Attracted by its solemnity, Bida on the contrary shows great thoroughness, less in the description of the place, moreover, than in the restitution of the climate of tragic fervor uniting, in front of the wall, the Jews of Eastern Europe and those of 'Orient, with a typical outfit and physiognomy. Artists like Gérôme and Vereshchaguine, who dealt with the same theme in the 1880s, acted as "directors" on a larger framing contrasting the enormity of the wall with anecdotal figures, where Bida, with a curiosity of he ethnologist free from prejudices, focused on the contained emotion that runs through a group of which each member is strongly characterized.

Study in partnership with the Museum of Art and History of Judaism

  • Orientalism
  • Judaism
  • Chateaubriand (François-René de)
  • East
  • Turkey


MALEMBITS Michèle, Alexandre Bida an Orient in black and white, Histoire de l'Art, n ° 51, November 2002, in particular p.104

To cite this article

Alexis MERLE du BOURG, "Le Mur des Lamentations"

Video: What is the Western Wall?


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