I recently returned from attending tonight’s David Patterson Seminar at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. The presenter was Aaron Rosen, a colorful Oxford fellow with a DPhil from Cambridge who lectures here on modern Jewish art. He has joined our small group of masters students at the local pubs a few times and and recently published a book entitled Imagining Jewish Art: Encounters with the Masters in Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj. Tonight’s lecture focused on the use of Christian symbols in the art of Chagall, Rothko, and Kitaj.
Particularly interesting to me was the work of Chagall, who, according to this presentation, seems to have appropriated the crucifixion as a symbol of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, with the resurrection a sign of hope for a rebirth of Jewish self-identity. He also used it as an “indicment against Christianity,” according to Rosen. The painting below, White Crucifixion, is intended to criticize the Christian use of the crucifixion as a source of anti-Semitism. Aaron tells us the man in the lower left with the white plaque on his chest originally had “Ich bin Juden” written on it, but it was removed in an effort to make the painting accessible to a wider audience, and perhaps even specifically to Christians. I found the talk captivating and was totally unaware of this dynamic of Jewish art in the last century. If you enjoy art and have never been exposed to Jewish art before, I recommend checking out his book.