SCULPTURE

The Biblical and Talmudic Periods

Within the general context of the problem of representational art among the Jews in antiquity, sculpture, together with *medals and *seals, was in a special category. The Bible (Ex. 20:4) forbade the "graven image" in the most explicit fashion, more categorically and comprehensively than the mere likeness. Hence, while the representation of human or animal figures on a plane surface was condoned or permitted most of the time during the periods in question, greater difficulties were constantly raised with regard to three-dimensional representations on medals and seals, and four-dimensional sculptures in the round. Indeed, in some Orthodox circles, even making an impression with a seal bearing the human or animal form was considered religiously objectionable, since by doing so a man actually "made" a graven image, even though not for worship or veneration. From a very early period, however, this was qualified in practice. The *Cherubim of the Tabernacle and in the Temple of Solomon were representations in the round. A fourth century Jewish scholar states (TJ, Av. Zar, 3:1, 42c) that all manner of images (פרסופים, parsufim, mod. Heb. parẓufim; i.e., "visages," from the Greek πρόσωπον) were to be found in Jerusalem before its destruction in the year 70 C.E. Even if this information is not quite accurate, it is obvious that this scholar himself had no objection to graven images as such. R. *Gamaliel in the second century C.E. is said to have had a human head engraved on his seal. A statue of the ruling Parthian monarch stood as a patriotic symbol in the synagogue where *Abba Arikha and *Samuel worshiped in Nehardea (RH 24b). The talmudic statement (Av. Zar. 42b) that "all images are permissible except those of human beings" presumably refers to their retention when they were found rather than to their manufacture.

In the Middle Ages

The rabbis of northern France discussed and even permitted the representation of the human form in the round, provided that it was incomplete (Tos. to Av. Zar. 43a). Even *Maimonides (Yad, Avodat Kokhavim 3:10–11), while forbidding the human form in the round, apparently sanctioned three-dimensional animal figures. In the Renaissance period, carved lions flanked the steps leading up to the ark in the synagogue at Ascoli in Italy, although this eventually gave rise to objections. There are traces of Jewish sculptors in Spain in the Middle Ages, including the anonymous Jew who was said to have been responsible for the first recorded statue of Francis of Assisi (1214). There were also a number of metal workers whose work included the making of figures in gold and silver. Jaime Sanchez, the Aragonese court sculptor, was assisted in his work by a certain Samuel of Murcia, who is even designated as rabbi. Some scholars maintain that the eminent German sculptor Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz, 1447–1542), creator of the altar of the church of St. Mary in the Polish city of Cracow, whose earlier life is wrapped in mystery, was in fact of Marrano birth, and even recorded the fact in Hebrew characters in one of his paintings.

The fashion of commissioning portrait medals was known among Italian Jews of the Renaissance period, such as Gracia *Nasi and members of the *Norsa and *Lattes families. The actual work was done by non-Jewish artists, but one Jew, Moses da *Castelazzo, was employed as a medalist at the court of Ferrara, though none of his productions can be identified. Biblical and other scenes in high relief appear on the tombstones in some of the cemeteries of the Sephardi communities of the Atlantic seaboard, especially Amsterdam. In the Jewish cemetery in Curaçao in the West Indies, the deathbed scene is sometimes shown on the tombstone with the likeness of the deceased in high relief. Nevertheless, there seems to have been some reluctance among the Jews to tolerate sculpture in the complete sense of the term. The earliest bust of a Jew is usually held to be that of Moses Mendelssohn by P.A. Tassaert (1727–88). The bust of Antonio Lopes *Suasso, Baron Avernas le Gras, attributed to Rombout Verhulst (1624–98), is, however, of an earlier date. But as late as the 20th century, there were Orthodox Jewish collectors in western Europe who refused to allow sculptured figures in their homes unless they were either defective or slightly mutilated. In the light of this attitude, Jewish medalists of some reputation came into evidence relatively early, while Jewish sculptors emerged only in the 19th century.

[Cecil Roth]

The 19th and 20th Centuries

Jews entered the field of sculpture about 1850, some years after the first Jewish painters appeared. Few of these 19th-century sculptors are remembered today, although some of their work survives on the facades or in the interior of public buildings, in the squares of large cities, in parks, or in the vaults of museums. Possibly the earliest to achieve a measure of fame was the Hungarian, Jacob *Guttmann, for whom Prince Metternich and Pope Pius IX sat, but whose name is not to be found in any history of modern art. Guttmann shares the fate of scores of non-Jewish sculptors of his time, who were famous in their day, obtained gold medals and held professorships, but fell into oblivion with the emergence of Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), who was to overturn the prevailing notions concerning the function and scope of sculpture.

These men were gifted enough to furnish Victorian society with statues of celebrated statesmen or generals, or with the knickknacks that adorned the tables and mantelpieces of upper-middle-class homes. Most of these pieces were conceived in a style that might be described as "sentimental naturalism." Often, tolerably good likenesses of individuals were created, yet they suffered largely from an excessive preoccupation with detail. Works on literary or religious themes were frequently burdened with an all too obvious and even trite "symbolism." Thus, of 19th-century Jewish sculptors, Samuel Friedrich *Beer is chiefly remembered for his association with Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement rather than for his own work. Similarly, Boris *Schatz is revered today as the founder of the *Bezalel School of Art and the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem, while his actual works are no longer held in high esteem.

After 1900, artists discarded the academic formula. Art is imitation of nature, and Jewish sculptors, like their non-Jewish confrères, stressed the emotional or expressionist element, abandoning mechanical accuracy or photographic likenesses. They were encouraged in this by the discovery and evaluation of aboriginal art from Africa and Oceania, which, nonnaturalistic in character, made a strong impact by its daring simplifications and exaggerations of forms. Among the authors of pioneering studies of African sculpture were Carl Einstein (1885–1940) and Paul Westheim (1886–1963). It is remarkable that almost all the Jewish sculptors whose careers began around 1910 came from east European communities, where the taboo against the making of three-dimensional objects was still strong. They included Enrico (Henoch) *Glicenstein; Elie *Nadelman; Chana *Orloff; Anton and Naum Nehemia *Pevsner (d. 1977) who were brothers; Ossip *Zadkine; and Moyse *Kogan. The best known of this group of sculptors is Jacques *Lipchitz, in whose work can be found figures and groups drawn from Jewish and biblical themes. Another well-known sculptor, Sir Jacob *Epstein, born in New York and living most of his life in England, was the son of Polish immigrants. The Italian painter Amadeo *Modigliani first worked as a sculptor and left more than 20 carvings as evidence of an unusual talent.

Although most of the modern sculpture belongs to the category of expressionism, Jews have also been pioneers in post-expressionist trends, among them Làszló Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), and Naum Nehemia Pevsner. In the United States, two dentists who became sculptors, Herbert *Ferber and Seymour *Lipton, achieved wide acclaim, Ferber with lead and bronze pieces that, while abstract, were imbued with psychological or symbolic meaning, and Lipton with roughly textured metal works that, equally abstract, are vaguely reminiscent of plants or animals. The huge assemblages of scraps of wood of Louise Nevelson (1900–1988) create environments of their own. Of a later generation than these is George *Segal, whose white plaster figures are cast from living models and placed in pseudo-realistic settings such as shops or bedrooms. A naturalized Frenchman, Hungarian-born Nicolas Schoeffer (1912–1992), created complicated constructions making use of light, and even noise. In England, the pioneer of minimal sculpture was Anthony *Caro.

While the synagogue for a long time rejected any decoration in the round, in the 1950s and 1960s more and more Reform temples and, to a lesser degree, Conservative congregations, especially in the United States, commissioned the services of sculptors to fashion large menorot and other ritual objects, or to decorate walls with semi-abstract designs of such symbols as the Burning Bush or the Tablets of the Law.

[Alfred Werner]

Sculpture in Ereẓ Israel

In the same way as painting was continuous and intense in Palestine after 1906, sculpture also flourished as the result of the efforts of a few sculptors over a considerable period. Avraham Melnikoff (1892–1960) is known for his famous "Lion" at Tel Ḥai (1926), and Zeev *Ben Zvi, who taught sculpture at the Bezalel School from 1936, had a good knowledge of cubism and left some important works. It was the more academic school of sculpture, represented by Moshe Ziffer (1902–1989), Aharon Priver (1902–1979), and Batya Lishansky (1900–1990), which dominated the field prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. During this time there was hardly any open-air sculpture. In 1938, however, Yitzhak *Danziger executed his "Nimrod," which was in itself an attempt to create a synthesis between Middle Eastern sculpture and the modern concept of the human figure. Danziger's art underwent profound changes after World War II, and he became the leader of the younger generation of sculptors. His style rapidly became more abstract. Not only did he work in new materials, such as iron, but he attacked the double problem of open-air sculpture and its integration into its surroundings and its relation to town planning. Yeḥiel *Shemi, Dov *Feigin, Moshe Sternschus (1905–1992), Kosso Eloul (1920–1995), and David *Palombo followed Danziger in developing abstract styles of their own. They were in turn copied by younger sculptors, such as Ezra Orion (1934– ), Menashe Kadishman (1932– ), and Buky (Moshe) Schwartz (1932– ). Two others who worked on monumental sculptures and integrated them into urban landscapes were Igael *Tumarkin and Shamai *Haber.

[Yona Fischer]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Yidisher Kultur Farband, One Hundred Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (1947); B. Satt, A Jewish Town in Sculpture (1958); C.S. Spencer, in: Ariel, 18 (1967), 19–24; B. Kirschner, Deutsche Spottmedaillen auf Juden (1968), incl. bibl.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.