Across Israel, Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs.
Jewish Art: Any cultural production that utilizes Jewish subject matter and content drawn from; 1) all material found in Jewish sacred texts and those secular texts that explore Jewish social life and history, 2) Jewish history, from Antiquity to the present, as well as Jewish ritual, music and synagogue architecture.
Jews, as well as non-Jews, can create Jewish Art. The essential factor in this kind of art is always the Jewish content – ideas and notions that can be called Jewish. The definition is not exclusive; rather it is flexible and changing, much as is all creativity. Jewish Art is most simply defined as the cultural expression of the Jewish people and their ideas over the millennia.
Murals And Mosaics
It is said that Jewish Art begins with Bezalel, the craftsman “filled with G-dly spirit, with wisdom, insight and knowledge and with every craft” and his assistant, Oholiab. They crafted the utensils, decorations and furniture of the Tabernacle. They were G-d’s artists. But the design and artistry of the Mishkan and First and Second Temples are known to us only in texts. It has evaporated in the mists of a violent history. Therefore, for us, Jewish Art begins in the synagogues of late Antiquity.
Jewish Art begins at Dura Europos [National Museum, Damascus] in 250 C.E. First uncovered in 1920-32, an extensive series of wall murals, arranged in three horizontal levels on all the walls of a synagogue, depicts explicit Torah narratives. On the western wall, the Camp in the Desert, the consecration of the Tabernacle and the Triumph of Mordechai are seen on the left, while the Exodus from Egypt, Solomon’s Temple, Moses being saved from the Nile and the Anointing of David are depicted on the right. In the middle of the wall, a painted Torah niche depicts the Temple, the Menorah and the Binding of Isaac. The south wall shows an Elijah Cycle, the north wall a vision of Ezekiel. Unfortunately, the east wall is too fragmentary to identify. This decorated synagogue in eastern Syria, along the Euphrates River, is the earliest datable example of Jewish figurative representation, notably in a synagogue context. It establishes, without a doubt, that Jews in the third century of the Common Era produced and used visual art.
This historical fact is further reflected by the extensive mosaic floor decorations in over 50 percent of the 36 ancient Israeli synagogues uncovered so far. These ruins of synagogues from the early third to the sixth century of the Common Era are found from Bar’am in the north to Gaza in the south, with at least ten in the upper Galilee. The enormous pavement at Hammas Tiberias (fourth century) features the ark, flanked by menorahs, a brilliant figurative Zodiac and personifications of the four seasons. Beth Alpha (sixth century) also has an ark, menorahs, ritual objects (along with lions and birds) depicted in the mosaic near the aron. An elaborate Zodiac – again surrounded by figures of the seasons – dominates the center of the floor. In the lower register, seen first as one would enter, is the Binding of Isaac featuring Eleazar, Ishmael, the ram caught in the bush, Abraham, Isaac and a fiery altar. This mosaic is one of the masterpieces of early Jewish Art.
The next outpouring of Jewish artistic creativity is the illuminated manuscript. This art form flourishes for 600 years from the 10th to 16th centuries, starting in the Islamic Near East and moving gradually through Western Europe. In 895, the earliest surviving example of Hebrew illumination, a Book of the Prophets by Moses ben Asher, a Masoretist from Tiberias, shows us find 12 pages illuminated in gold geometrical patterns with a floral center and corner spandrels. Tiny micrographic text contributes to the lush design. These highly abstract “carpet” pages, so called because the design tended to be uniform over the entire page, dominated Jewish illumination for the next hundred years. Soon, illuminated Bibles (many Karaite) elaborated pure design into more concrete representations of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and its various utensils. Even more elaborate depictions of sacred vessels are found in a Bible in late 13th century Spain [Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris].
In the 13th century, Jewish illumination begins its Golden Age, especially with the extensive production of luxurious Haggadahs. At least 73 illuminated Haggadahs created between the 13th to 16th centuries have been studied. Over 20 survive from the 14th century alone. They were created across a broad geographical area from Spain, Northern France, the Rhineland and Southern Germany and Italy.
This production in Spain of luxurious Haggadahs is in addition to many works produced in the German lands and Italy. The earliest illuminated Jewish manuscript in Germany is a two volume Rashi from 1233, [Bayrische Staatsbibliothek, Munich] with miniatures in the initial word panels for each parashah. It was quickly joined by at least 20 illuminated Bibles, Mishneh Torahs of Rambam and many large and elaborate Machzorim meant for public synagogue use by the chazzan. Notably, a late 13th century French illuminated Miscellany (a collection of Machzorim and other religious texts for private use) [British Library] boasts some 41 Biblical miniatures.
There are many examples of Italian Renaissance Jewish illuminated manuscripts including Bibles Tehillim and halachic and medical texts. Perhaps the most famous Italian Jewish text is the Rothschild Miscellany (15th century) [Israel Museum] that has at least 300 textual illuminations. This art form was clearly custom-made for the Jews.
Nonetheless the Haggadah, especially those produced in 14th century Spain, triumphs in quantity and quality. The Golden Haggadah (1330) [British Library] prefaces the haggadah text with a series of 15 full page miniatures, depicting the Biblical narrative from Adam up to the Exodus. Each page has four episodes of the narrative and explicates not only the narrative but its commentators as well, utilizing a simultaneous conflation of various aspects of the story line. The juxtaposition of four stories on one page creates new narrative possibilities, frequently heightening the drama – as in the combination of the Death of the First Born, the Jews exiting Egypt with a high hand, the Egyptian army pursuing the Jews and finally, the defeat of the Egyptians at the Sea.
In contrast the Rylands Haggadah (also 14th century) [Rylands University Library, Manchester] is much more simple in its narrative and concentrates on the Passover story itself. It starts with Moses at the Burning Bush, moving through each of the plagues, and finally exalting in the devastation of the Egyptians at the Sea. This 14th century manuscript carries its visual enthusiasm into the Haggadah text itself with extensive illuminations, ornamented initial letter panels and embedded drolleries.
Because illuminated Jewish manuscripts were prized luxury items, many survived the ravages of violence and expulsions. Synagogue decorations and ritual items such as menorahs, kiddush cups and the like have not been so fortunate. But perhaps, since we so highly valued books, the next form of Jewish Art has survived, i.e. the Jewish illustrated book. We will explore them, along with a rebirth of illumination and finally the 19th century birth of Jewish painting, in our next article.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at email@example.com
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Everyone is always looking for cute yet simple and inexpensive ideas to enhance their table at special occasions. Here are some attractive ways to create that festive look. Whether you use china or plastic, your guests will surely be delighted with your charming setup.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a chavrusa working with you, guiding and helping you in your work environment?
What made an M.I.T. scholarship student, taking time off from his doctorate in medicine, to backpack, and then decide to backtrack, chuck it all… and get a haircut? Perhaps it is easier to understand a Harvard law student becoming enamored with the logic of Gemara and settling down to struggle with the intellectual challenges of Aramaic acrobatics.
JetBlue flew an empty aircraft from Boston to JFK to assist us. The care and concern of the flight attendants was amazing. They were astounded by our group, so much so that at the end of the flight, the captain related for all to hear that he was truly impressed by the care that the HASC counselors provided for the special-needs campers – all of whom have physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. We did our best to demonstrate a true kiddush Hashem.
Q: What does twice exceptional or 2e mean?
The battle over partnership minyans is just the latest scuffle in the war over women’s roles in the Orthodox community.
Last month’s column outlined some efforts during the first half of the nineteenth century to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in America. In only one case was a colony actually established.
According to Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar, “Gifts for the poor [matanot l’evyonim] deserve more attention than the seudah and mishloach manot because there is no greater, richer happiness than bringing joy to the hearts of needy people, orphans, widows and proselytes.”
Having everyone home on a snow day can be a lot of fun – the first few times it happens. Once snow day number six hits, perhaps not so much and the real creativity has to come out.
Imich was born in 1903 in Poland, where he later earned his Ph.D. in 1927, despite the best efforts of anti-Semitic professors to sabotage his thesis
Never sacrifice the people who matter for anything of lesser importance…
Hannah believed that one must learn about the evils of the past so that they aren’t repeated.
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.
The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/a-jewish-art-primer-part-i/2006/04/19/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online:
No related posts.