Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chagall’s Jerusalem Windows

Looking Up

“This is my modest gift to the Jewish people who have always dreamt of biblical love, friendship and of peace among all peoples. This is my gift to that people which lived here thousands of years ago among the other Semitic people.” 
Marc Chagall, February 6, 1962

Northern View
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center

In the ancient story of the Jewish People, recounted in the Tanakh (תַּנַ"ךְ‎), the Hebrew Bible, the twelve sons of Jacob (also given the name, Israel), are in birth order listed as follows (Genesis 35:23–26): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin. Chagall’s stained glass windows reflect this listing, where the artist note says that he referred to Genesis 49 (Jacob blesses his sons) and Deuteronomy 33 (Moses blesses the 12 tribes of Israel) for inspiration. Blessing is a common theme, but it is more than the blessing of a leader; it is the blessing of a spiritual leader who has gained, after much trial, an intimate relationship with God.

As for the small but noticeable discrepancy between the 12 sons and the 12 tribes, one must note that the Bible says that Levi, who was a son of Jacob (through Leah, his wife), received no inheritance of land, since the Levites were a priestly tribe without land who received offerings from the other tribes. Thus, the 12 Tribes are as follows: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh are the sons of Joseph, who were subsequently adopted by Jacob, also known as Israel. 

Regardless of the complexity of following and understanding such biblical narratives, they play an important part in the history of the Jewish People, and such is what Marc Chagall offers as an interpretation in these large—each are 11 feet x 8 feet—stained glass windows. They are as beautiful as they are breathtaking. The windows were on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, from November 19, 1961 to January 3, 1962, before being installed at what was then called Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem on February 6, 1962.

The medical center writes on its website the following about Chagall’s artistic creation, also called the stained glass windows and originally and officially known as “The Jerusalem Windows”:
The light that emanates from the twelve stained glass windows bathes the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center in a special glow. The sun filters through the brilliant colors of the stained glass capturing their radiance. Even in the misty haze of a cloudy day, Chagall's genius transforms time and space.
The synagogue’s Jerusalem stone floor and walls absorb this beauty and reflect it. Standing within the simple square that forms the pedestal for the windows, gazing up at the vivid imagery, the Jewish symbols, the floating figures of animals, fish and flowers, even the most casual viewer is overwhelmed by their power and presence.
Every pane is a microcosm of Chagall’s world, real and imaginary; of his love for his people, his deep sense of identification with Jewish history, his early life in the Russian shtetl.
"All the time I was working, I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder; and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews -- of yesterday and a thousand years ago," Chagall said.
The Bible was his primary inspiration, particularly Jacob's blessings on his twelve sons and Moses' blessings on the twelve tribes. Each window is dominated by a specific color and contains a quotation from the individual blessings.

Chagall and his assistant, Charles Marq, worked on the project for two years, during which time Marq developed a special process for applying color to the glass. This allowed Chagall to use as many as three colors on a single pane, rather than being confined to the traditional technique of separating each colored pane by a lead strip.

The synagogue was dedicated in the presence of the artist on February 6, 1962 as part of Hadassah’s Golden Anniversary Celebration.
Chagall himself has said about the windows: “They have completely transformed my vision, they gave me a great shock, made me reflect. I don’t know how I shall paint from now on, but I believe something is taking place.” Assuredly so.

Eastern View:
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center

Southern View
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center

Western View
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center

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