BEST MUSEUMS IN EUROPE
The Israel Museum Jerusalem
In this article we examine a selection of highlights of Jewish art from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, one of the best art museums in the Middle East, which holds the world's most comprehensive collection of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental Jewish religious art, crafts and artifacts. The museum's permanent collection includes a wide range of archeological artifacts, Judaica, Jewish ritual and ethno-graphical objects, as well as haggadah illuminated manuscripts, painting, and Jewish craftwork, although we will be focusing on its fine art content.
FAMOUS JEWISH ARTISTS
ARTS OF ISLAM
ART GALLERIES USA
FINEST EUROPEAN GALLERIES
WORLDS TOP ARTISTS
WORLD'S BEST ART
The Jewish cultural treasures of The Israel Museum have been progressively gathered over the last nine decades. The origins of the collections can be traced back to 1906 when Boris Schatz founded the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. Schatz set up a collection of archeological and traditional Jewish folk objects to inspire his young students in their quest to create a new national style. At first, the collection could be viewed only at the annual Bezalel students' exhibitions, but in 1912 the Bezalel Museum opened its doors to the public of Jerusalem. During the First World War the collection was hidden in a large cistern in the courtyard of the school. In 1925, under the directorship of Mordechai Narkiss, the museum was expanded and renamed the Bezalel National Museum. In 1965 the collections of the Bezalel National Museum were integrated into the newly established Israel Museum.
Over the years donations of individual objects, and even entire collections, have enriched the displays of what has become the repository of the Jewish people. Among the people who assembled such collections, and who were instrumental in having them brought together at The Israel Museum, were several prominent figures.
Dr. Abraham Ticho, the great Moravian-born ophthalmologist, emmigrated to Jerusalem in 1912. He collected various objects from all over the world, but was primarily interested in Hanukkah lamps. His extensive and impressive collection was bequeathed to the museum in 1980 by his widow, the artist Anna Ticho, upon her death.
Dr. Heinrich Feuchtwanger, a dentist,
arrived in Jerusalem in 1936, having begun to collect Judaica objects
a decade earlier in his native Munich. He continued collecting Judaica
in Jerusalem, often coming across rare objects in the shops and markets
of the Old City. The Feuchtwanger collection was donated to The Israel
Museum in 1969.
The treasures of Jewish art and culture
at The Israel Museum include objects brought to Israel from virtually
all Jewish communities throughout the world, both oriental and occidental.
This gives the museum's Judaica collection a certain versatility and all-encompassing
nature and makes it one of the most comprehensive of its kind. This unique
aspect of the collection is due in part to the fact that cultural remnants
of vanishing Jewish communities arrived in Israel, accompanying the waves
of immigrants which flowed into the country following the establishment
of the Jewish state. In addition to the wealth of Judaica collected, invaluable
ethnographical material was rescued during the course of field surveys
conducted by the Julia and Leo Forchheimer Department of Jewish Ethnography
at The Israel Museum.
art some outstanding Jewish treasures have survived. One well-known
example is the magnificent Rothschild Miscellany of the fifteenth
century, with its beautiful illuminations. Another unique work of art
is the bridal casket (cofanetto), presented to a Jewish woman in northern
Italy in the fifteenth century. From the same region, but of a somewhat
later period, is the splendid baroque synagogue from Vittorio Veneto.
Many of the craftsmen who created early
works of Judaica remain unidentified, and only a few of the early Jewish
artists are known by name. Shalom Italia was a 17th-century Italian
copper engraver. He settled in Holland and there produced some magnificent
illustrated Esther scrolls and apparently several rare marriage contract
forms (ketubbot) as well, including one particularly impressive example
from Rotterdam, dated 1648, now part of The Israel Museum collection.
Several craftsmen expressed themselves
artistically by decorating the interiors of synagogues. Eliezer, son
of Shlomo Katz Sussmann, of Brody, Ukraine, was an itinerant 18th-century
artist who painted fresco murals
in synagogues in Germany. His works include the synagogue interior from
Horb, Bavaria. The Jewish artisans who created the heavy tin doors for
the Torah ark of the Rema synagogue in Krakow proudly signed their names
to their work, as well as on another pair of 17th-century Torah ark doors
In Islamic countries a different situation prevailed, and most of the artists and silversmiths were Jews, Some of them achieved a very high level of craftsmanship, as can be attested to by the jewellery and Torah ornaments in the museum's collection.
Embroidery and weaving were in most cases performed by Jewish artisans, both in the East and in the West. In many countries, particularly in the East, it was thought that Jews possessed "professional secrets" with regard to this type of textile art. Professional embroiderers made Torah ark curtains (parochot) for the synagogues in Bavaria, for example. One such richly embroidered curtain from the Torah ark from southern Germany, evidently embroidered by a professional Jewish artisan although unsigned, is housed at The Israel Museum. Some of the artists who created the curtains and were active in the eighteenth century are known by name, such as Elkone of Naumburg and Kopel Gans. In Italy, Torah mantles and wrappers (mappot) were embroidered by Jewish women and often bear their names. On the round cloth (malbush) placed between the finials of the Afghanistan Torah scroll, an embroidered inscription bears the name of a woman, although it is unclear as to whether she made the piece or simply donated it to the synagogue.
All of these early artists, Christian and
Jewish alike, produced functional art that was decorative in nature. The
objects were designed for use by Jews in
The tradition of ordering ritual art from artists continues today. In recent years we have witnessed an increased interest and activity among designers in Israel and abroad who seek to find new ways of creating contemporary Judaica. They attempt to design ritual objects that reflect contemporary art, using innovative forms, materials, and technigues. Judaica designed by artists such as David Gumbel, Menahem Berman, Arieh Ofir, Zelig Segal, and the younger Amit Shor are exhibited at the museum, linking the present with the past. Zelig Segal's candlesticks "In Memory of the Destruction of the Temple," are an example of this prevailing movement in contemporary Judaica design.
The existence of visual Jewish art raises
the issue of the attitude towards art
in Jewish thought. It is commonly believed that the Jewish religion prohibits
Due to the vast nature of the collections of the Jewish Museum, we only have space to present a small fraction of the museum's treasures. However, we hope they stimulate your interest in the historical significance and aesthetic beauty of Jewish art.
Birds' Head Haggadah, Southern Germany
The so-called Birds' Head Haggadah derives
its name from the images featured in the manuscript. Most of the human
figures are depicted as having birds' heads with pronounced beaks. Some
figures also have short pointed animal ears. All male adults in the manuscript
wear the conical "Jew's hat," which was compulsory for Jews
in Germany from the time of the Lateran Council in 1215. In addition to
the birds' heads, other methods of distorting human faces such as blank
faces, heads covered by helmets, and a bulbous nose are employed in the
Sassoon Spanish Haggadah, Spain
The Sassoon Spanish Haggadah as it is known,
is one of some twenty Spanish illuminated haggadahs which survived the
expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The
All of these sheets are basically similar
and differ only slightly from one to another. They all contain the five
shorter books (hamesh megillot) of the
Aaron Wolf Herlingen of Gewitsch was one of the most renowned scribes of the 18th-century manuscript revival. Born around 1700 in Gewitsch, Moravia, he established a school of Hebrew illumination in Vienna, a city of wealthy and prominent Court Jews such as Samuel Oppenheimer and Samson Wertheimer. Herlingen, who was active until around 1760, was a most prolific scribe and produced numerous painted manuscripts as well as haggadahs and smaller books of blessings. Although he did produce a few coloured manuscripts, most of his works were illustrated with monochrome pen and ink drawings which imitated the art of engraving in printed books.
The Fall of Goliath, by Moses Shah
The Wedding, by Moritz Oppenheim
This many-layered work defies a single interpretation. It has commonly been suggested that Lissitzky is burying the old Jewish world in favor of the new world of the Revolution; or that he is bidding farewell to Europe and Russia (the Old World), seeing the future in America. However, the collage should also be seen in the context of Ehrenburg's story: the main character, an old man, is waiting for a boat ticket from his son in America, hence the title. The story also contains kabbalistic elements, as well as a description of a pogrom, which may explain the Hebrew letters hinting at burial. While "Shifs Karta" constitutes Lissitzky's strongest Jewish work visually, it is also the last example in which he employs Jewish symbols.
Interior of a Synagogue in Safed, by
Marc Chagall (1931)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985), the Russian-born
artist, noted for his singularly dreamlike fine
art painting, visited Eretz Israel in 1931 for the first time. On
that occasion he painted several works in Jerusalem, and three oil
paintings of synagogues in Safed. The painting recently acquired by
The Israel Museum represents the Ha-Ari Sephardi Synagogue, which today
remains virtually unchanged since Chagall documented it more then sixty
years ago. Perhaps the best known of Safed's many houses of prayer, is
believed to date back to at least the early 16th century.
The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Menashe Kadishman
Still Life With Jewish Objects, by Issachar
Ryback went to Paris in 1926, where he began painting in the School of Paris style. He died in Paris in 1935.
Sources: We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from the outstanding publication Jewish Art Masterpieces (1994), edited by Iris Fishof.
For details of the development of
painting and sculpture, see: History of
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