Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chagall's Stained Glass Windows

Marc Chagall, one of the most iconic painters of our time, is also a man who's work is synonymous with the Jewish faith and with Israel. A personal favorite of mine, I enjoy the weightless, dreamlike presence that exudes from his colorful paintings. Born in 1887 into a poor Jewish family in a rural part of Belarus, Chagall was raised in a poverty stricken town (commonly known as a "shtetl") which were numerous and plentiful across all of Russia. These small, rural villages, emblematic of his youth, would later become a popular subject of his identifiable artwork. One of nine children born to his parents, Chagall did show great artistic promise at a young age, however, his father disapproved heavily and did not support the youngster's move to St. Petersburg and later to Paris, where he acquired most of his professional training. Thank goodness he followed his passion, because today we have a plethora of treasures such as these to behold: 

The Wedding Candles (1945)
Over Vitebsk (1914)
I and the Village (1911)
Paris through the Window (1913)
The Fiddler (1912)
Russian Wedding (1909)
Now, did you know that some of Chagall's greatest masterpieces can actually also be found inside the walls of the famed Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem? Here's a look at this established hospital, known worldwide both for its groundbreaking medicinal success and research as well as for the distinguished artwork held inside the Abbell Synagogue:

Hadassah Hospital aerial view in the Ein Keram neighborhood of Jerusalem
Arguably one of Chagall's greatest masterpieces and most visited works of art is the luminous set of 12 stained glass windows that compose the walls of the Abbell Synagogue. Each window depicts one of the 12 tribes of Israel, each with its own predominant color scheme, transforming the space of the synagogue in Hadassah Hospital into a dazzling play of light and colors in a way that is profoundly moving for a place of worship. Chagall and his assistant Charles Marq worked on the windows for over two years and developed a new technique to allow Chagall to use up to three colors on a single pane of glass. The stunning results – 12 windows, each about 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide – were completed in 1961. They were on display in Paris, then New York, where record breaking crowds lined up around the block of the MOMA to see them. The windows were installed in their permanent home in February 1962:


Which one is your favorite? I am partial to the colors and images in Levi's window. As mentioned, the windows represent the 12 sons of the Patriarch Jacob, from whom came the Twelve Tribes of Israel. As you can see, Chagall's windows are populated by floating figures of animals, fish, flowers, and numerous Jewish symbols. Chagall visited the Synagogue multiple times during the creation of the windows in order to see how the light bounced off the colors. To fully understand the significance of the windows, however, they must be viewed against Chagall's deep sense of identification with the whole of the Jewish history, its tragedies and victories, as well as his own personal background in the shtetl of Vitebsk, where he was born and grew up. Chagall has expressed that the windows are his "modest gift to the Jewish people" and that while he was working on the windows, he felt that "my father and my mother were looking over my shoulder, and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago." 

Finally, here are a few pictures from our visit to Hadassah Hospital and the Chagall windows. The admission is free, so there is no excuse not to go! Additionally the views from the hospital overlooking Ein Karem are spectacular: 

Hadassah Hospital from a distance, in Ein Karem
Arriving at Hadassah Hospital
An ambulance parked outside Hadassah University Hospital
Rafi and I outside of Hadassah Hospital
A view of the stained glass windows from the top of the Synagogue
Looking at Chagall's windows from inside the Synagogue
Another beautiful view of Chagall's windows in full sunlight
A last look at Chagall's windows
May I ask, what other hospital in the world can you find such original works of art? Thus, next time you find yourself in Jerusalem, I strongly encourage a brief stop at Hadassah Hospital to see some of Chagall's most famous pieces of art. It is a special place and truly worth the visit. 

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