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The Wartime Escape: Margret and H.A. Rey’s Journey from France
March 26, 2010 – June 20, 2010
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
9603 Woods Drive, Skokie, Ill.
Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey
March 14, 2010 – August 1, 2010
The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave, at 92nd St., New York
Monkeys and apes are generally symbols of base passion, particularly lust, in Western art. Giovanni Battista Foggini’s 17th century bronze sculpture “The Fall of Man” shows not only the serpent dangling from the Tree of Knowledge tempting Adam and Eve, but also a monkey seated behind the tree eating an apple. Foggini may have gotten the idea from Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose 1612 painting “Garden of Eden” features a monkey prominently, or from a c. 1410 “The Garden of Eden” by an unknown artist in Frankfurt. A century earlier, Martin Luther had famously referred to Satan as “God’s ape,” building upon the then-popular view of monkeys as unintelligent animals that simply mimicked primitive human behavior.
A monkey dressed as a court jester sits with a ball-and-chain shackling its legs in David Teniers the Younger’s “Prodigal Son” (1640), representing the son’s immorality and infidelity. In Eastern art, monkeys often torment the Buddha (as they do Christian saints), and several Frida Kahlo self portraits feature monkeys, no doubt referencing the artist’s passion. The title alone of El Greco’s 1577-9 work, “An Allegory with a Boy Lighting a Candle in the Company of an Ape and a Fool,” identifies the tradition of identifying monkeys with loose morals.
Since monkeys so closely resemble humans (or vice versa), many artists have personified monkeys to offer social commentary, much like William Wegman photographed dogs dressed as people. The master of still life painting Jean-Sim?on Chardin’s 1740 “Monkey as Painter” shows a fashionably-dressed monkey painting a still life. Teniers, who placed a monkey beside his prodigal son, was famous for populating many of his works with monkeys: “Monkeys Drinking and Smoking” (1630s), “The Monkey Sculptor” (1660), “Monkeys at School” (c. 1660, not to be confused with his “Monkeys in School”), “Barber Shop with Monkeys and Cats” and “Guardroom with Monkeys” (c. 1663).
Like many other symbols from different faiths, monkeys found their way into Jewish art. According to some scholars, notably Rachel Hachlili in “Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in The Diaspora,” monkeys may appear on some of the walls at the synagogue at Dura Europos. In his seminal “Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature,” Marc Michael Epstein, professor of religion and Jewish studies at Vassar College, notes that monkeys were among the animal depictions adorning the walls of the 17th century synagogue in Hodorov (modern day Ukraine).
In “The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies,” Martin Goodman, Jeremy Cohen and David Sorkin add that monkeys are among the animals depicted on seals found “at Israelite sites dating primarily from the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E.” A 1309 edition of the Pentateuch with Rashi’s commentary from Brussels by Joshua b. Elijah (cited in Norman Roth’s “Medieval Jewish Civilization: An Encyclopedia”) features an illustration, which covers nearly the entire page, of a seated scribe holding a dog on his lap facing a monkey.
18. Margret and H. A. Rey, United States, late 1940s. H. A. & Margret Rey Papers,
de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection,
McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.
It is against this larger tradition of monkeys that Margret and H.A. Rey created Curious George, the inquisitive monkey many will know from the Reys’ children’s book series.
Since there is no literal Jewish content in the work of the Reys, many readers might be surprised to learn there is any Jewish significance to Curious George. But the playful monkey has been the subject of recent shows at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center and The Jewish Museum, owing to the Jewish identity of his two creators.
In fact, the Reys had to temporarily halt their work on the Curious George series to flee the Nazis and they escaped Paris on their bicycles with the George manuscripts in tow. When one looks for references to the Reys’ status as refugees in their character, one is reminded that the Man with the Yellow Hat (who remains anonymous) traps George and removes him from his home in the African jungle. As David Chack, president of the Association for Jewish Theatre, pointed out to me when we visited the exhibit together at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, the man’s hat could be a reference to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear.
4. H. A. Rey, final illustration for “One day George saw a man. He had on a large yellow straw hat,” published in The Original Curious George (1998), France, 1939-40, watercolor, charcoal, and color pencil on paper. H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Curious George, and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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One minute you’re shaving shwarma off a pit, then the shwarma guy tells you he read a (fake) WhatsApp that the boys are dead.
I probe a little deeper and Shula takes me into the world of phantom pains and prosthetic limbs.
Shame is often confused with guilt and humiliation.
Because Menachem lives in Israel, he can feel the ruach in the air.
Perhaps you can reach a compromise during this news frenzy, whereby you will feel more comfortable while he can still follow the latest events.
Leon experienced the War of Independence from a soldier’s perspective, while remaining true to his Jewish ideals and beliefs.
Chabad of Arizona centers recently hosted an evening of remembrance to mark the 20th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A CPE class at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn was tailor made for Orthodox participants.
The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”
It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.
One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)
Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.
It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.
Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.
The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?
Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/is-curious-george-jewish-monkeys-and-jewish-art/2010/07/28/
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