Museums’ mislabeling can leave visitors with misconceptions of biblical proportions

Religion News Service | 12/6/2018 | Staff
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(RNS) — When Catholic News Service took to Twitter to wish its nearly 170,000 followers a happy Hanukkah this week, the wire outlet inadvertently shared a detail from the Arch of Titus depicting the seven-branched Temple candelabrum being carted away by Roman soldiers after the destruction of Judaism’s holiest site in 70 A.D.

One group that can commiserate with the embarrassed CNS editors, who swiftly apologized for their faux pas, is the world’s museum curators. With its long and tangled history, biblical iconography is a minefield for misattribution and mislabeling, especially as even casual knowledge of the Bible and other sacred texts is on the decline.

Visit - Cleveland - Museum - Art - Reporter

On a recent visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art, a reporter noticed a wall placard identifying a gilded and illuminated page from a 13th-century French psalter as Saul, Israel’s first king, in the act of anointing David, who followed him on the throne. In the bottom left corner, a young man bows his head as a bearded, haloed older man anoints him from an oil jug. Another elderly man in a conical hat looks on, bearing another jug.

Such a scene would be very surprising because Saul, far from anointing his successor, tried to assassinate David, whom he correctly foresaw would replace him. In fact, the Bible’s First Book of Samuel tells of the prophet Samuel anointing David after having first tried to crown the young shepherd boy’s brothers.

Reporter - Misidentification - Stephen - Fliegel - Museum

After the reporter pointed out the misidentification to Stephen Fliegel, the museum’s curator of medieval art, the museum changed the label reference from Saul to Samuel. “I am not sure who originally identified the scene, probably a dealer or collector,” said Fliegel, who didn’t know of anyone questioning the trio’s identities since the museum acquired the work in 1985.

The top people at museums don’t typically write the labels,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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