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Bezalel Narkiss

NARKISS, BEZALEL (1926– ), Jewish art historian. Narkiss was born in Jerusalem, the son of Mordechai *Narkiss, director of the Bezalel Art Museum. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then taught history for five years at a secondary school in Haifa. It was only after his father's death, while examining and arranging his papers, that Narkiss found his vocation; to establish Jewish art as a specialized academic discipline. Consequently, he retrained, studying at the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Warburg Institute at the University of London. Specializing in the history of medieval art, where his interests were divided between iconographic and stylistic studies, he was particularly influenced in his approach to art by Hugo Buchthal and Francis Wormald, his supervisors in London, and Yitzḥak *Baer, professor of medieval Jewish history in Jerusalem. After his return to Israel in 1963, Narkiss taught in the department of art history at the Hebrew University, serving as chairman from 1974 to 1976. His positions included serving as art editor of Masada Press (1963–73) and foreign editor of Gesta International Center of Medieval Art (1973–80). He was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Jewish Art (1974–86) and director of the Catalogue of Hebrew Illustrated Manuscripts of the British Isles. He was illustrations consultant and art editor of the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica (1970). He was also the art adviser to the Diaspora Museum (Beth Hatefutsoth), and sat on the boards of the Israel Museum and the Wolf Foundation.

Narkiss' unique contribution was as the founder of the Index of Jewish Art in 1974, thus undertaking the task of indexing all works of Jewish art worldwide. Through Narkiss' seminal work, the study of Jewish art has been transformed into a specialized academic discipline. He stressed the relationship of the style to that of the general art of the region, while pointing to specific Jewish elements and iconography. The Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University, founded and initially led by him (1979–91), established the Journal of Jewish Art (now Jewish Art) and he served as its editor in 1974–86. He worked towards the computerization of the Index, while concomitantly encouraging the continuing documentation of Jewish art around the world. He also encouraged documentation and preservation activities in areas of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that had been less accessible before 1989. As a result of his activity, a school of students and researchers has evolved since the mid-1980s and the study of Jewish art as a discipline has spread from Israel to Europe and the United States. For this significant work he was awarded the Israel Prize in 1999. From 1999 he was a visiting scholar at Princeton and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Narkiss published widely on the subject of illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts, and his major work on the subject, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, has appeared in several editions.


"Bezalel Narkiss, List of Publications," in: Jewish Art, 23/24 (1997–98), xv–xviii; G. Sed-Rajna, "From Bezalel to Bezalel," in: Jewish Art, 23/24 (1997–98), xi–xiv; Y. Zirlin, "The Publications of Bezalel Narkiss," in: Jewish Art 12/13 (1986–87), 349–50.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.