Celebrating Passover

Friday 15 April, 2022 is the beginning of Passover (Pesach) - and to all my Jewish family and friends I wish you a very happy and fulfilling holiday.

The eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan, April 15 - 23, 2022.

Passover (Pesach) commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Pesach is observed by avoiding leaven, and highlighted by the Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.1

To recognise Passover I have chosen several of my favourite artists. The first, I am sure you all know extremely well: the remarkable Marc Chagall. Below is a detail from his Four Seasons painting.

Caption - Marc Chagall, detail from “Four Seasons,” 1972. (Flickr/JR P) (1)

Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985) is one of the most famous Jewish artists of all time. He was an early modernist who demonstrated an impressive array of skills, creating everything from large stained-glass windows to oil paintings.

His artworks, no matter their medium, often feature prominent Jewish imagery that explores the common theme of liberation. One of his most overtly Passover-themed artworks is “The Tribe of Benjamin” (1964).2

Marc Chagall, The Tribe of Benjamin (From Twelve Maquettes of Stained Glass Windows), 1964 (3)

The image centers around an abstract rendering of a Seder plate, which holds six symbolic foods to be eaten and displayed at the Seder meal. Chagall’s top-down rendering of this plate evokes the image of a flower and the geometry of a wheel, emphasizing the springtime significance and cyclic beauty of the Passover holiday. The vivid colors and bold animal life surrounding the Seder plate also suggest the revival of nature that occurs during this holiday, as Passover marks the beginning of the harvest season. The same natural motif surrounding the Seder plate is depicted in Chagall’s mosaic “Four Seasons” and sits in the springtime section of the four-sided artwork.2

A more detailed historical description is:

The Tribe of Benjamin radiates with an incredible bold intensity. The imagery that appears in this work represents the classic themes within Chagall's career: the tree, the lion, the bird, the goat the lamb the fish synagogue, and the town/city. The carousel of yellows, purples, reds, greens, and magnificent blues are central to the work, complementing and highlighting each element of the composition. It is charmingly whimsical with flora and fauna decorating the entire piece, with a glimpse of the rooftops of a peaceful village in the background. As an eloquent rendition of one of the Tribes discussed in the Torah, this work acts as a complement to the other eleven maquettes of this Tribes series.

Created in 1964, this image is one in a series of twelve lithographs. Commissioned by the Hadassah-Hebrew Medical Center, Chagall created these works as maquettes for a series of stained glass windows to be installed in the Center's synagogue outside of Jerusalem. The work was engraved by Charles Sorlier, who worked in close collaboration with the artist and is printed on watermarked Arches wove paper. This piece is numbered from the edition of 150 in the lower left (total edition of 150 proofs signed and numbered in Arabic numerals, 75 proofs signed and numbered in Roman numerals, and 10 artist's proofs). This work is hand signed by Marc Chagall (Vitebsk, 1887- Saint-Paul, 1985) in pencil in the lower right margin and signed in the stone, 'CH. SORLIER. GRAV. LITH.' at the lower left of the image.3

This year Passover ends in the evening of Saturday, 23 April and over the next few days I will showcase some more Jewish artists - both visual (Eva Hesse, Amedeo Modigliani, Lee Krasner) and musical (Joseph Joseph Schmidt).

1. chabad.org
2. Contemporary Jewish Art and the Celebration of Passover
by Zimra Chickering Mar 24, 2021, (emorywheel.com)

3. masterworksfineart.com