Marc Chagall, Detail from Jacob's Dream, ca., 1960-1966, Colour lithograph 60x48 Courtesy of Matsart Auctioneers and Appraisera
Chagall: Modernism and the Bible
12 January 2013
Curator: Svetlana Reingold
The Bible has been a source of inspiration for many artists throughout the ages, but it seems that few of them devoted so many works to biblical themes as did Chagall. He constantly referred to the Bible throughout his life, incorporating it in his works in various techniques. He also founded a museum dedicated to the message of the Bible.
Chagall's work is drawn from different cultural sources and integrates many different traditions, but in regard to biblical themes he returns to his childhood, to the Jewish tradition in which he had been raised and educated. Biblical stories and characters were part of his childhood, and heroes from the Bible were his focus of admiration. "I have not seen the Bible. I dreamed it" he said. He believed that his role as an artist was to convey God's message, and his art was a Biblical interpretation.
His works on Biblical themes are the focus of the current exhibition, which explores artistic modes of expression, reflecting the need of today's Jewish secular world to deal with spirituality and the yearning for it. On one hand, Chagall's work is unique in 20th century modern art. Conversely, it reflects the mood of a period that a host of Jewish artists wished to express, and whose works are also presented in the exhibition.
These artists, prominent representatives of the" School of Paris", including Mané-Katz, Jacques Lipchitz, Osip Zadkine, Nahum Aronson, and others, re-evaluated the second commandment regarding visual representation in Judaism, (Exodus XX:3): "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them". They explored the use of biblical subjects that accorded with their imagery. Their paintings deal with the biblical narratives, and at the same time represent 20th-century artistic interpretations of the Bible, each of them very personal and unique.
When they had to take a stand over what was happening around them, many Jewish artists turned to the historical sources for justification. The exhibition "Chagall: Modernism and the Bible" reveals the different methods of representation in which artists used the biblical stories as a process that integrates expression of what happened in their time with an ongoing cultural pattern and a longstanding artistic tradition. In their view, the biblical story has given meaning to the hardships the Jewish people has experienced in modern times. The biblical images have provided these artists with symbols from a long visual tradition and a distinguished literary canon that symbolize the events of the present.
Marc Chagall, Adam and Eve, 1953-1954 Gouache and pastel on paper, 64.8x49.5, Gift of the artist, Collection of Haifa, Museum of Art
Marc Chagall, David and his Harp, 1980-1982, Tempera on masonite, 65x40, Collection of Engel Gallery, Jerusalem