Jewish Art Primer
Jewish Art: Any cultural production that utilizes Jewish subject matter and content drawn from; 1) all material found in Jewish sacred texts and those secular texts that explore Jewish social life and history, 2) Jewish history, from Antiquity to the present, as well as Jewish ritual, music and synagogue architecture. And it begins with Dura Europos. Mosaics and Murals in Antiquity.
Jewish Art Before 1800
Rushing in from the Boston airport on a bright Sunday morning, I breathlessly rolled into Boston College’s Gasson Hall, surprised by the sumptuous kosher lunch set out, and settled into the first of a series of PowerPoint Presentations delivered about illuminated medieval Jewish manuscripts. Within the blink of an eye, I was in heaven. This was the beginning of a two day presentation of 8 serious scholarly papers; explorations into the complexities of the medieval Hebrew manuscript. Where else but in a Jesuit college?
Jewish Art Before 1945
The visual image is not a problem in Judaism. We have countless examples of images and representations of Jewish subjects and ideas done by pious Jews throughout the centuries, whether as ancient synagogue mosaics, illuminated manuscripts, synagogue wall decorations or paintings. But, in spite of this evidence, there is a parallel Jewish sensitivity to images.
Contemporary Jewish Art
Shmuel the artist is what they called him back in the Old Country. At home and in cheder he was always drawing or modeling something. Born in 1882 in Wolkovisk, Russia he grew up in poverty, his father a Torah scholar and mother a peddler of grain and flour. Early on he was orphaned and with his soprano voice was apprenticed to a cantor to give performances from shtetl to shtetl in the Polesie swampy woodlands of Byelorussia.
One way to understand the biblical is through contemporary eyes, literally. And so artist Elke Reva Sudin has recast biblical figures through contemporary portraits. The juxtaposition is revealing.
Music, Film and Performances
One hundred years after David Pinski's (1872-1959) “Di Familye Tzvi” was written the scathing examination of the Jewish world that the play depicts is neither dated nor out of touch with contemporary Jewish life. Also known as “The Last Jew,” this play was completed in New York just fourteen months after the infamous Kishinev pogrom of April 1903 in Russia. It depicts one family, headed by grandfather Rabbi Mayshe, his sons and grandsons, friends and various community members at the very moment that the terrible pogrom is starting.
Two masters of modern photography are on view at the International Center of Photography; Chim (Szymin); aka David Seymour and Roman Vishniac. They are both Jewish and just happen to bring astute but radically different visions to Jewish photographic subjects. These brilliant, exhaustive exhibitions help us examine the fundamentals of what it means to create a Jewish Art in photography.
Museums / Auction Houses
Near the end of his long and productive life Nicolas Poussin was commissioned to paint in 1660 an unusual series of paintings called the “Four Seasons.” They very quickly became some of the best known and beloved of his artworks; utilizing four scenes from the Hebrew Bible to depict the Ages of Man as the seasons of the year; Adam and Eve as Spring; Boaz and Ruth as Summer; The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land as Autumn and finally, The Flood as Winter.