Marc Chagall’s love story with the State of Israel began in 1930, before its inception, when Ambroise Vollard, one of the most important art dealers of his time, commissioned him to undertake a series of illustrations of the Bible. Chagall first arrived in then-Palestine in February 1931 and ended up staying for two months. According to Jacob Baal-Teshuva, “he was impressed by the pioneering spirit of the people in the kibbutzim and deeply moved by the Wailing Wall and the other Holy Places”. Chagall traveled a great deal, painting and drawing in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Safed. The country left a vivid impression on him, and once back in Paris, the views and visions he had experienced in the Holy Land were echoed in many of The Bible etchings.
“I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it. Ever since early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me and still seems today the greatest source of poetry of all time”, wrote Chagall.
In 1951, the opening of large retrospective exhibitions of his works in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, prompted Chagall’s second visit, and in 1957, he was again in Israel following the publication of his illustrations to the Bible. The inauguration of his iconic 12 stained-glass windows for the synagogue of the Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem in 1962 brought Chagall to Israel once again. The stained glass windows representing the 12 Sons of Jacob from whom descended the 12 Tribes of Israel and located in the synagogue of the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Centre in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, were dedicated on February 6, 1962. (Source – Israeli ministry of foreign affairs) “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,” – Marc Chagall, February 6, 1962. The synagogue’s floor and walls made of warm Jerusalem stone simultaneously absorb and reflect the windows’ beauty, imbuing the entire space with an ethereal light. 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.
“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
A year later, Chagall was back in Israel in order to discuss the iconographic themes for a large-scale decoration for the new Knesset building. The then-Speaker of the Knesset, Kadish Luz, called on Marc Chagall in 1960 and requested that he provide the artwork for the future, permanent Knesset building. Luz proposed that he create murals or works of stained glass, as he had created for the synagogue at the Hadassah Hospital.
Chagall, however, wanted to try to create tapestries, even though he had never done so before and his style of painting was not an easy one to render into wall tapestries. Kadish Luz nevertheless agreed, providing him with passages from the Bible which Chagall worked into his drawings which became the Gobelins, hanging today in the Israeli parliament building, the Knesset. (Source – Israeli ministry of foreign affairs & Israel Knesset). With the formal unveiling of the Gobelins taking place in the presence of the President of the State, Zalman Shazar, for Chagall, this was an opportunity to express his interpretation of the entire history of his people, and its focal point – the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.
Upon the completion of the work in 1969, Chagall declared: “I have visited this land many times and each meeting with it deepened in me my ties to it, so that I wished to leave here some sign of this bond…. Now I and my creations have entered the Parliament of Jerusalem, the Knesset – in its hall, on its walls and floor….. Thus I became close to the land…. I felt as though I had been born anew. No longer am I as I was.” (Source – Israeli ministry of foreign affairs) Marc Chagall last visited Israel in October, 1977, when he was 90 years old. During this final trip he accepted two distinguished honors. The city of Jerusalem conferred on him the title “Worthy of Jerusalem,” and the Weizmann Institute of Science awarded him an honorary doctorate. (Source – Israeli ministry of foreign affairs) Chagall’s love story with the State of Israel began in 1931, and this love story remains and forever will be considered as one of the strongest bonds between an individual and his beloved people and country. We are proud and humbled to have the opportunity to prepare this unique project, reflecting Chagall’s work, life, and influence on so many people worldwide, and all of us in the State of Israel. (Below Photo - www.knesset.gov.il). CLICK TO VIEW THE FULL COLLECTION