web analytics
July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Reading Szyk’s Cards


King Saul, King of Spades by Arthur Szyk
Heroes of Ancient Israel: Playing Card Art published by Historicana

King Saul, King of Spades by Arthur Szyk Heroes of Ancient Israel: Playing Card Art published by Historicana

Heroes of Ancient Israel: The Playing Card Art of Arthur Szyk Published by Historicana – www.szyk.com

Arthur Szyk (1894; Lodz, Poland – 1951; New Canaan, USA) was a driven man determined to serve his people through his art. A passionate supporter of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionists from at least the mid-1930’s, Szyk’s art almost always had a political edge. As we noted on these pages arch 12 & 19 2010, the Szyk Haggadah (1934 -1936) was originally an explicitly anti-Fascist creation. Therefore the recent publication by Historicana of “Heroes of Ancient Israel: Playing Card Art of Arthur Szyk” is notable for its lack of overt political content. Indeed, its strength lies in a subtler affirmation of Jewish sovereignty and wisdom.

Trumpeldor’s Defense of Tel Hai (1936) by Arthur Szyk
Courtesy The Robbins Family Collection

In many ways the painting, “Trumpeldor’s Defense of Tel Hai,” Lodz, 1936 is more typical of Szyk’s work during those years. Here he is celebrating the ultimate sacrifice of Joseph Trumpeldor, the venerable hero of early Zionist settlement, martyred on March 1, 1920. Szyk depicts the one-armed Trumpeldor rallying his men to defend the northern Jewish settlement. Our green-shirted hero is at the pinnacle of a heroic pyramid of fighters composed of every kind of Jew – women, men, old, young, pious and secular. The quotation from Pirkei Avos 1:14 at the bottom of the image: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” brilliantly unites a political image with a sacred text. Significantly, this image was later used by the Bergson Group in America to rally support for the defense and establishment of the State of Israel during World War II.

In contrast, the original watercolor and gouache painting of “Playing Card Art” (Collection of Raziel Unger) thought to date from the mid-1930’s (the works are undated) simply arranges Jewish kings, Queens and heroes into the Court Cards (King, Queen, Jack) of the standard four playing card suites (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds & Clubs). That said, Szyk’s choices and order of placement are revealing. I believe it will be instructive to read the cards as a kind of psychological transition from a harsh and aggressive hero to a more subtle expression of Jewish power. It is important to note that we have no indication from the artist as to his ultimate intentions in these works.

All of the figures are holding a symbolic object that denotes their power or attribute. This arrangement reflects the historical tradition of European playing cards that, beginning in the 14th century, were hand-painted (and printed) illuminated miniatures generally depicting figures of nobility. It is logical to seek a common theme across each suite and to order it within the chronology of Jewish history, as can be easily seen in Szyk’s choice of kings.

Ruth, Queen of Hearts by Arthur Szyk
Heroes of Ancient Israel: Playing Card Art published by Historicana

The King of Spades is King Saul, grasping the fateful spear that he threw in anger at David. He menacingly frowns at the viewer, a pure distillation of aggression. Next to him is Queen of Spades, Queen Esther, holding a royal scepter that is hers by right and by dint of her courage to approach King Ahasuerus unbidden. She gazes at us imperiously. Finally the Jack of Spades is represented by Judah Maccabee, the proto-typical Jewish revolutionary general. His laudatory cunning and courage are perhaps mitigated by the fact that his family presumptuously combined the office of High Priest with that of King of Israel. Each member of this suite exhibits an assertive if not aggressive personality.

Next the King of Clubs is King David, here represented by his poetic harp. His gaze is softer and more thoughtful than Saul. Judith is the Queen of Clubs and, while brandishing her sword with a determined look, she is known for her great piety and skillful manipulation of the foolish Holofernes, who was drunkenly led to the bed in which he would lose his head. Bar Kochba is the Jack of Clubs, also with a more introspective expression, his heroism against the Romans but a prelude to the tragic beginning of a 2000 year exile.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Reading Szyk’s Cards”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Map of Gaza City rocket launcher sites in school yard. July 22, 2014
UNRWA School Shelters Rockets (Again!) and Residents in Gaza
Latest Sections Stories
book-Family-Frayda

Written entirely through Frayda’s eyes, the reader is drawn by her unassuming personality.

book-I-Kings

Adopting an ancient exegetical approach that is based on midrashic readings of the text, thematic connections that span between various books of the Bible are revealed.

book-Unify-A-Nation

While Lipman comes from an ultra-Orthodox background and is an Orthodox rabbi, he offers a breath of fresh air when he suggests that “polarization caused by extremism and isolationism in the religious community may be the greatest internal threat to the future of the Jewish people”

Schonfeld-logo1

The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defines a mentch as “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”

Certainly today’s communication via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like, including the ubiquitous Whatsapp, has reduced the need to talk with people and communicate at length.

These two special women utilized their incredibly painful experience as an opportunity to assist others.

Maybe we don’t have to lose that growth and unity that we have achieved, especially with the situation in Eretz Yisrael right now.

Sleepily, I watched him kissing Mai’s chubby thighs.

I have always insisted that everything that happens to anyone or anything is min Shamayim.

My teachers like me and they tell my parents that I am a great girl with good middos.

The chicken and waffle nuggets were fabulous and were like chicken in a dessert form.

“Have you forgotten your dreams?” The Hope Merchant asks a defeated and hopeless Lily when she “happens” upon his shop.

The universe was created by God out of nothing; it has not always existed.

He combined intellectual achievement with deep spirituality and religious devotion.

More Articles from Richard McBee
McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

With Without (2011) Performance, digital print by Ken Goldman
Courtesy The JCC in Manhattan

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

The ostensible outsider frequently has the privilege of seeing the exclusive inner sanctum with fresh and unbiased eyes. Artists’ initial encounters with the Talmud are equally blessed.

    Latest Poll

    Israel's Iron Dome Anti-Missile System:





    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/reading-szyks-cards/2012/11/23/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: