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But of course, not every Chagall acrobat has biblical or religious significance, as one is reminded by Chagall’s “Autour de l’equilibriste,” which was on view at TEFAF at Connaught Brown. Chagall, after all, was “mesmerized” by the traveling circus troupes in Russia, and he regularly attended circuses in Paris after he moved there in 1924. Chagall created a series of 19 gouache paintings of clowns, acrobats, dancers, and horse writers for the dealer Ambroise Vollard, and referred to the circus characters as “tragically human,” according to the gallery.

But even in this work, Chagall couldn’t resist inserting the figure of the bride, walking a tight rope. And immediately to the right of the bride, a figure hoists up a ladder beneath an acrobat, who grasps the hand of an acrobat with wings. A simple explanation might be that the ladder is intended to reach the acrobat in the swing. But is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this might be another Jacob’s ladder, particularly when one considers the acrobat-angels, as well as the fact that the top of the ladder doesn’t rest on anything at all but the air?

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Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blog.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Full disclosure: This writer’s trip to TEFAF was funded, in large part, by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, which, however, had no role whatsoever in or oversight over this article.

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