Articles in Category: Jewish Art Before 1800

Jewish Art Before 1800

Esther’s Swoon Revealed

Written on August 11, 2009

Esther Before Ahasuerus (1548); detail:  Esther Swoons; oil on canvas by Tintoretto Courtesy Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, Windsor, England

Earlier this summer I went up to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see the blockbuster exhibition, “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice.”  While rarely have I seen as many masterpieces collected together in a traveling show, one painting stood out for both its Jewish subject and the surprising way it narrated the dramatic story of Esther appearing before Ahasuerus.

Michelangelo and the Jews: Part II

Written on August 27, 2008

Moses (1515), marble by Michelangelo San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

“The Sistine Secrets” by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner raises many intriguing issues about one of the most important works of Western art and its creator, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564) as first presented in my review of August 29th.   Now we shall attempt to put this masterpiece and the artist in a larger context.

Poussin’s Bible

Written on April 07, 2008

Winter (The Flood); Detail of Man Praying (1660) Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures

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.

Esther in Venice
In Search of Images of Esther

Written on March 01, 2008

Banishment of Vashti (1556), (Detail), oil on canvas by Paolo Veronese Courtesy Church of San Sebastiano, Venice [wga.hu]

I was thinking about Esther the other day when I realized that there are almost no Jewish representations of our most favorite heroine and her story.  Now of course the tradition of illuminated megillas, many produced in the 17th century, is an exception.

Sarah’s Miscalculation

Written on August 24, 2007

Abraham Entertaining the Angels (1656) detail of Sarah and her angel Photo courtesy Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum

Rembrandt’s etching, “Abraham Entertaining the Angels is a pristine jewel of Biblical narrative.  The artist depicts the exact moment the story reveals its true meaning.  The guests have been comfortably seated and served refreshments by Abraham himself, shown humbly waiting on them in the lower right corner.

Caravaggio and Evil

Written on July 26, 2007

David with the Head of Goliath (1606), oil on canvas (48” X 39”) by Caravaggio Galleria Borghese, Rome

Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio (1571-1610) was well acquainted with evil.  His short violent life careened wildly between prestigious painting commissions from the most powerful men in Rome and drunken street brawls with the lowest of the low.

Why Pictures?

Written on June 06, 2005

Moses Striking the Egyptian (detail) Amsterdam Hagadah (1695) Courtesy Kestenbaum & Company

Most Hebrew books have no pictures. Nobody misses them. In fact most books have no pictures, Hebrew or otherwise. The authority of the text is more than sufficient to communicate the ideas, sensations and emotions that literature specializes in. Picture books are ultimately different. The presence of pictures can serve to decorate, illustrate, elaborate, comment or perhaps contradict the adjoining text, thereby making picture books potentially much more complex because of the constant interchange between text and visual, both of which clamor for our attention. So the question arises why should certain Hebrew books have pictures...i.e. what is accomplished?

Rembrandt Etchings

Written on February 06, 2005

Abraham Entertaining the Angels (1656) etching and drypoint by Rembrandt National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Walking out of the US Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. the stench of mass murder was overpowering. Western Civilization, that hubristic culture celebrating man's highest aspirations, seemed obscene. Stately government buildings that bespoke American power and beneficence only reminded me of American rejection of Jewish refugees before the war and refusal to bomb the rail lines during. America knew from the extensive newspaper coverage between 1934 to the end of the war of the Nazi murderous intent to annihilate the Jews. This alone made my beloved America an accessory to the crime. My country essentially did nothing. And what about God? Why did He hide His face?

Grand Scale
Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Written on March 31, 2004

Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law (detail) (1590), Andrea Andreani after Domenico Beccafumi Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Boston

What is it about big?  Why are we impressed by size when we all know that the quality of any given thing is easily just as, if not more, important?  The simplest answer is that while man can normally make many things that are small, i.e. on a human scale, the larger something is the more effort and skill seems to be necessary.

The Sarajevo Haggadah The Choice of Images

Written on March 27, 2003

The Synagogue, illuminated manuscript, pages 33 & 34, ink and color on vellum (ca.1350)

The Rylands Haggadah A Cry from Catalonia, Part II

In the late 1300’s a masterpiece of Jewish Art was produced in Northeastern Spain in Catalonia. Over the years this Jewish community had been subject to increasing hostility from their Christian rulers in the form of repressive decrees, forced sermons and conversions. In 1391 lawless mobs attacked and massacred Jews in Barcelona and many other Spanish cities. The Rylands Haggadah (the original is currently at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, England and a facsimile was published in 1988) represents a unique insight into the tumultuous Medieval Jewish world of Catalonia and Provence.

Rembrandt In Berlin - Moses Breaking The Tablets Of The Law

Written on September 25, 2001

Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law (1659) Detail; Oil on canvas by Rembrandt

Connections
Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law by Rembrandt

Rembrandt’s Moses reaches up grasping the Tablets of the Law as he descends the holy mountain. Firmly rooted in the mundane, the painting presents us with a startlingly image of Moses’ initial journey down the mountain, carrying the first Tablets aloft, simultaneously displaying the prized gift and threatening to destroy God’s handiwork.

Beit Alpha Mosaics of The Akeidah

Written on September 12, 2001

Zodiac Section

Suspended

A figure in the primitive mosaic is depicted suspended in mid-air, seeming to flee his father’s grasp and yet hovering dangerously close to an all consuming fire. It is our forefather Isaac, depicted as a small lad with his hands bound, and in some way; it is all of us.

Precious Illuminated Manuscripts
At The Library Jewish Theological Seminary

Written on June 12, 2001

Kitaj Jewish Rider

When you see a talmid chacham pass by, you stand up to honor him and his learning. You then return to your own learning inspired to do more and to learn deeper. The same holds true of an artist visiting a great art museum. One stands in awe of a masterpiece and returns to the studio inspired and invigorated by the creativity one has witnessed.

Vermeer And The Jews
At The Metropolitan Museum

Written on April 02, 2001

The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658) Oil on canvas by Pieter de Hooch The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Lent by The National Gallery, London

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), one of the great masters of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, had nothing to do with the Jews. At least not directly. But I think that his work, shown here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the historical context of the Delft School, actually has a considerable Jewish content that, once discovered, will be seen to be at the core of his creative process.

Rylands Haggadah Part II

Written on March 19, 2001

Dayainu (f.29b) The Rylands Haggadah (mid-14th Century Catalonia)

The Rylands Haggadah A Cry from Catalonia, Part II

In the late 1300’s a masterpiece of Jewish Art was produced in Northeastern Spain in Catalonia. Over the years this Jewish community had been subject to increasing hostility from their Christian rulers in the form of repressive decrees, forced sermons and conversions. In 1391 lawless mobs attacked and massacred Jews in Barcelona and many other Spanish cities. The Rylands Haggadah (the original is currently at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, England and a facsimile was published in 1988) represents a unique insight into the tumultuous Medieval Jewish world of Catalonia and Provence.