The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteeth-Century American Art and Culture

By John Davis
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University (1997). xviii + 264 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
11.1 (Spring 2000) : 123-124

Though normally The Master’s Seminary Journal does not review books on art and art history, the present work is certainly a worthy exception. Part of the Princeton Series in Nineteenth-Century Art, Culture and Society, this work describes “the special relationship with the lands of the Bible that Americans constructed for themselves” (3). The author breaks his work into two parts: a general introduction of the American relationship with the Holy Land and an examination of four American painters and their work in the Holy Land.

The author has no particular theological stance in mind. In fact he studiously avoids even the slightest “sectarian” concept of the land (10), writing with the hope that “it will be remembered that the land remains holy to many faiths and many peoples, no one of which like the subjects of this study, can fully claim to possess it” (ibid.).

With the arrival of the Pilgrims and later the Puritans to America, settlers viewed this country as “a New World promised land, a divinely favored Protestant nation created by and for a modern ‘chosen people’” (back cover). The author details a history of American interest in the Holy Land and the almost ubiquitous manner in which the people of this country identified themselves with the land of Israel. He also details the various American groups and individuals who traveled to Israel in the 19th century, especially the painters who returned to display what they had captured on canvas. He mentions the work of several artists and photographers, but especially details the work of the American artists Miner Kellog, Edward Troye, James Fairman, and Frederic Church.

The book is well indexed and contains over 100 black-and-white and color reproductions of various works. Those interested in either the study of Israel or the religious history of America will find this book delightful reading.