Sacred Images Exhibition illustrates Hebrew Bible stories

August 1, 2010

Religious references: Shahn's Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher.

For centuries, art historians claimed that the relative dearth of Jewish artwork from before the twentieth century was caused by the Second Commandment's prohibition against graven, idolatrous images. But recent scholarship has shown that, while there was continuous debate about the issue among rabbis, there was always artistic activity in Jewish communities, usually reflected in ritual artifacts, both personal and communal, and in mosaics, murals, and other artworks in synagogues.

A new exhibition, "Illustrating the Hebrew Bible," on view through July 31 in the lobby of Perkins Library, presents samples of such work, but focuses on Jewish illustrations that accompany sacred texts that were produced in the twentieth century. The items are drawn from the Libraries' collection and depict biblical figures, scenes, and stories in a variety of forms and styles.

Featured artists include Marc Chagall and Ben Shahn; a leaf from a fifteenth-century printing of the Book of Nehemiah is also on display. The exhibition was curated by Rachel Ariel, the librarian for Jewish studies.