Descent Towards Sodom isolates the patriarch Abraham as each angel, one red, one green and one yellow, contrasts with the somber blacks of our forefather’s cloak. The mood is filled with a mournful tension as Abraham realizes the terrible and total destruction about to occur.
Interestingly the theme of violence is further developed in Moses Spreads Darkness over Egypt. Here Moses is depicted as slightly cross-eyed demonic prophet, his staff raised heavenward, while the angel, here accented is a flash of pinkish red, is positively aggressive.
Violence is again evoked in Crossing the Seaas we observe the Children of Israel led by a yellow clad angel while Moses in pure black and white orchestrates the miracle in the lower left. While the sky blue of much of the sea seems to conflate sea and sky, the red of the drowning Egyptian army fully seals their watery fate.
In many of the Bible images Chagall abandons direct narrative and instead focuses on certain psychological “portraits” of biblical characters. King Davidis transformed here by his yellow crown, face and mantle that elegantly contrast with his earth red and black gown. He now towers over his people arrayed before the anachronistically depicted Tower of David.
Chagall’s powers of empathy are of course central to his ability to depict such a vast range of biblical personalities. Elijah Touched by an Angel is perhaps the most heartbreaking image in the suite. The prophet in I Kings, 19:5 has fled the murderous Queen Jezebel to the wilderness of Beer-sheba and despaired of his life, proclaiming, “It is enough! Now, Hashem, take my soul…” When in absolute weariness Elijah falls asleep, an angel comes and gently touches his head, commanding him ‘to get up and eat for you have far to go and much to do yet.’ Chagall’s Elijah is a chassidic rebbe from deep within the artist’s own past and a prophecy of his own future. Even at the age of 70 Chagall had almost thirty more years of making some of the richest Biblical art the 20th century had ever seen. His legacy is shown to great advantage in this stunning exhibition.
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