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.
Barely redeemed from Egypt, the Jewish people faced a terrible foe. Amalek attacked without warning, without reason. True, Israel had tried the patience of G-d, first complaining about bitter waters at Marah, insufficient food in the Wilderness of Sin, and finally lack of water again at Rephidim. But the Children of Israel were inexperienced at trusting G-d, terribly new to the ways of faith with an invisible Deity. Still, Amalek attacked the stragglers wantonly, with nothing to gain. The Jewish People were forced to do battle with him at Rephidim, with Joshua leading the fray while Moses, Hur and Aaron ascended the hill to implore G-d for help. The drama is undeniable, but why did the American artist Solomon Nunes Carvalho choose to paint this subject sometime around 1848, making it the earliest Biblical painting by an American Jewish artist?
This diminutive oil painting, Moses Before the Amalakites, is only 16 x 20 inches and was sold recently at an auction at Kestenbaum & Company. It is the only surviving Biblical narrative that Carvalho created and has no obvious pictorial precedent in the history of this somewhat obscure subject. Nonetheless, it is an impressive example of an academic depiction of a Biblical subject, a motif that fell into disfavor by the mid-19th Century. Aside from itinerant provincial craftsmen, most American artists were concerned with genre painting, portraits or works that celebrated the brave, new world of American expansionism.
Carvalho (1815-1897) was born into a Sephardic family in Charleston, South Carolina and was deeply involved in Jewish communal affairs his entire life. He had a life-long relationship with Isaac Leeser, a major traditionalist figure in early American Judaism. (Leeser’s accomplishments include founding the Jewish Publication Society, publishing the Occident, the first successful Jewish newspaper, the first translation of the Sephardi prayerbook and the first American translation of the Bible.) Carvalho’s artistic career was mainly based on portraiture, including Abraham Lincoln and U.S philanthropist, Judah Touro. Additionally, he was official photographer in 1853-1854 for General John Charles Fremont’s ill-fated expedition to map out the most desirable transcontinental railway.
Before Carvalho embarked on his adventure across the American continent, he painted this rather extraordinary painting. In spite of its small size, the painting possesses an epic scale with the figures of Moses, Hur and Aaron appearing monumental in comparison with the diminutive figures in battle below on the left. Although cropping indicates that the painting was probably initially larger, it remains a powerful vision. Below, the Amalakite king is sprawled dead, across his fallen horse, as flailing arms, swords and charging horses indicate an Israelite victory.
In sharp contrast, Moses seems less than confident. His bearded head is thrown back anxiously imploring the heavens above while one upraised hand is open in supplication and the other is clenched around his famous staff. Aaron on the right calmly concentrates all his efforts at keeping Moses’ arm upright, forming the most stable leg of the pictorial foundation. The bareheaded Hur is on the left, similarly supporting the prophet’s arm even as he anxiously turns his head to watch the progress of the battle below. All three are clothed in voluminously rendered robes, the subtle shifts in color contrasting with the almost monochromatic battle scene.
The steadfastness of Aaron only accentuates the narrative tension created by the consternation of Hur over the battle and the heartfelt pleadings of Moses. If Moses’ concentration guaranteed military success for Israel, why was Hur worried and why was Moses not reassured? The answer may lie in the fact that supplication to G-d is no guarantee of Divine blessing. Our relationship with G-d is considerably more complex, both then and now.
It is still unclear why Carvalho chose to paint this particular subject. The emerging experiences of American Jews seen in the tensions developing between the native Sephardic communities and the newly arrived middle European Jews must have concerned him as well as the challenges of settling a vast continent filled with Christians and Indians. As a believer in traditional Judaism, he was deeply concerned by the nascent American Reform movement. Whatever motivated him, his concept of the Children of Israel being, in one way or another, exposed and subject to attack drove a complex vision of faith and struggle to maintain Jewish life in the New World. His insight still serves us well.
Kestenbaum & Company – 12 West 27th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001. (212) 366-1197.
I gratefully acknowledge the background information gleaned form the Encyclopedia Judaica and the Yeshiva University Museum Catalogue, The Sephardic Journey (1992) quoted in the Kestenbaum Catalogue.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
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/confronting-catastrophe-pray-or-fight-carvalhos-rephidim/2005/04/27/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online:
No related posts.