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MY PATH THROUGH ART
Bezalel Narkiss

 

Dear friends, beloved Doron and Irit and all my family, colleagues and students,
            It seems I was born only yesterday, and because of my luck, here I am, eighty years old. I am happy that you all came to celebrate my birthday with me.
Thank you all who came from abroad to celebrate with me my eightieth birthday, people who love me and always supported me. My daughter Irit and her husband Mathew Ponting, my cousins Larissa and Hubert Cain, my special friends Cindy Mack, Sabine Solf and especially Christine Evans, who followed my academic career, from my doctoral thesis to the Ashburnham book, and made all my writings legible. Thank you all.
My path through art began at home with the influence of my father. I have already spoken in brief about my father's career during the conference which dealt with his activities and I hope that in the near future this and the rest of the proceedings will be published in cooperation with the Israel Museum, the Artists House and the Center for Jewish Art.
My first memories on art are linked to the days I stayed at home due to illness, and in order to keep me busy, my father piled art books from his huge library next to my bed. Thus I became familiar with the art of Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, as well with the art of Egypt and Greece and Jewish artists, such as Steinhardt and Birnbaum, even though I could not read English or German. Art at home was an every day activity; my father Mordechai used to talk about each object he managed to acquire and schnor for the Bezalel Museum and gave me a copy of everything he published, usually with a dedication: "For Tzalil to have everything which father wrote." The museum and the home were actually one entity, and all of us, my mother Nassiah, my sister Nafshia and I were very much involved with every joy and sorrow incurred at the museum. In addition to the interest in art, we were imbibed with the idea that the meaning of life is to work with dedication for a project or objective larger than oneself. Such was father's dedication to the museum and mother's commitment in the education of the children in her kindergarten.
In my last year at high school, my father tried to recruit me to work with him, which I did to some extent; but like any other adolescent, I preferred other occupations, which seemed more important to me then. My aims were to establish a core group of Scouts to settle in a kibbutz and to join the Palmach (striking force of Haganah). In that same year I joined the "To think and consider" circle led by Shmuel Ettinger, whose questions and sharp mind made me think, doubt and examine everything I believed in until then. The philosopher, who charmed me most, of whom I heard for the first time in that circle, was not Karl Marx but Friedrich Hegel, especially his concept of unity of contrasts which causes change. Later on Shmuel and other friends founded the Hebrew Communist Party, which combined Marxism and Zionism and which believed in the creation of a bi-national state in the country. Once I became active in the Party, following a year at the Palmach, I too could experience the feeling of total dedication to an idea above oneself, going as far as robbing a bank in order to reorganise the Party which had broken apart.
At the same time I started my studies at the university – Mathematics of course, in which I excelled at school. However, it soon became clear to me that solving equations with known solutions was not to my liking and I spent most of my time listening to lectures in philosophy, history, literature and Kabbalah, and thus I caught the bug of ancient and medieval history. My university teachers are a legend today, among them Professors Schwabe, Cherikover, Sholem, Klauzner and Shirman, and especially Gedalia Allon, a genius from Hebron Yeshiva and an excellent historian of ancient period, who died young; and my outstanding teacher, the historian Yitzhak Fritz Baer, pedantic, severe, with imagination and vision in the fields of Antiquity and Middle Ages. My studies were interrupted by the War of Independence and resumed after it, mainly in Prof. Baer's seminar, who was the supervisor of my doctoral thesis on "Malmad Hatalmidim" (Students' Goad), a collection of sermons by Jacob Anatoli, head of Naples' Jewish community and the physician of Friedrich II, King of the two Sicilies during the 13th century.
I made my living by teaching in various high schools, the first was Beit Hinuch High School, where I taught from 1951, immediately following my marriage to Hillela Ginzburg, whom we lost about sixteen months ago. While working at the Beit Hinuch High School I realised to what extend teaching, conversation and discussion with my students were important to me and I knew that my mission in life, like my parents', was to be an educator. Three years at the Really School in Haifa were cut short when my father fell ill. I returned to Jerusalem to help my mother nurse him and taught at the Hebrew University High School.
In 1957 my father died, at the age of only 59, and full of plans to transform the Bezalel Museum to Israel's National Museum on Givat Ram, plans realised later on by Tedi Kollek, in the creation of the Israel Museum. After his death, the Bezalel Museum's management asked me to go over his papers and Nachlass and find something ready to be published. I spent an exciting year in my father's study, going over all the treasures he left. He was in the midst of writing an extensive book on the "Illuminated Haggadah in Manuscripts and Print" commissioned by the Bialik Institute, for which he collected hundreds of photographs of Haggadot from all over the world and biblical paintings from their beginning to the Baroque period. Unfortunately, he managed to write, in his beautiful hand, only a page and a half, and scores of others with notes for the book. I was stunned by the subject and by the art discipline, of which I knew so little. And I was captured!!! This was the beginning of my independent path into art history.
The Bezalel Museum granted me a one year scholarship to study History of Art in London in order to continue my father's work in the museum. I travelled on my own and completed the BA examinations in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, studies which normally last three years. My tutorial instructor was Prof. Francis Wormald, Head of the School of History at the University of London, short, round and bald with an English sense of humour. Once a week I showed up at seven in the morning in his home at the southern end of the city, with the assignment of giving a paper and presenting a written composition on one Christian iconographic subject. I never studied Christianity and my written English was not too good, although my mother-in-law Hannah Tepfer was my English teacher at High School. But Wormald was strict in regarding each written word and every detail of the subject matter. An error in English won his severe and vocal criticism and he made me present an improved version of my work the following week. Margaret, my partner in the tutorial, who appeared even on cold days in tennis shoes, socks and skirt, refused to help me improve my English. However, when I arrived one morning at the Wormalds, Honoria, my tutor's wife, tall, thin, with a shock of white hair, opened the door and invited me to return to their home after her husband's departure to university at eight thirty, promising to help me correct my writing. A week later, when reading my improved work, Wormald's face turned red with anger, screaming: "Honoria! This is your style". It transpired that Honoria used to improve her husband's writings too. I then found Mary Bradshaw from Ireland, an English teacher at Berlitz and an amateur violinist, who helped me with my writing during the first years of studies and who remained a friend until she died.
After receiving my degree from the Courtauld Institute, I was granted a generous four year scholarship from the Warburg Institute in order to do my doctorate there; I could then have my wife and son with me, living with the unforgettable Burns family. I chose to write my doctorate on what I later called The Golden Haggadah, under the supervision of Professors Wormald and Hugo Buchthal, who had been the last doctoral student of the legendary Erwin Panofsky, before both fled from Germany in 1938.
Buchthal, earlier the chief librarian at the Warburg in London, was an expert on Byzantine art; he too was a pedantic scholar, who suffered great pains in his thigh, taking it out on his students. Eventually we became friends, also with his wife Malchi, the sister of the known pianist Rudolf Serkin.
Methods of tutoring and instructing in England were completely different from those known in Israel. In fact, the supervisor left the student to study on his own the material required for the doctorate, develop the research methods, working programme and form of writing. Luckily, the rich Warburg library enabled a scholar to reach every cultural region he chose. I was able to burrow and bring dozens of books to the room allocated to me, and speak with colleagues at tea time. In this ivory tower I found people with whom I could exchange opinions and ideas: educated librarians, who guided me through the maze of wonderful collections of photographs and books, acquired in the days of Aby Warburg in Hamburg: endless treasures which I continued to use throughout my years of research.
I used to meet my instructors once a week during seminars, in which each teacher discussed the subjects of his choice. With Wormald I studied mainly Latin Palaeography, while Buchthal, having determined the subject for the next meeting, would first examine his students' knowledge on the subject by asking to identify the photos, while hiding the captions in the books he was holding. Whenever I thought I had found something which would advance my doctorate, I stated my thoughts to my instructors, who suggested additional bibliography. In these two seminars I learned a lot about the subjects which were studied, but also understood how not to teach.
Besides Warburg, I spent a lot of time in other libraries in England: in Oxford, Cambridge and of course at the British Library which houses "my" manuscript. It was not easy to see the Haggadah when I wanted, since most of the time it was on exhibition, and only when Dr. Rosenwasser, the librarian of the Hebrew collections, left for a two week vacation twice a year, could I study the manuscript continuously and thoroughly. During the years I travelled extensively among the main European libraries in order to see Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Arabic illuminated manuscripts. Travelling between Madrid and Barcelona, between the Vatican, Parma, Milan and Venice, from Munich to Frankfurt, Hamburg, Nuremburg and Leipzig, I saw and learned a great deal. In the absence of a computer, I recorded all my descriptions and thoughts on cards, which I found most convenient for comparison sake when I returned home. I adopted the use of cards later on, when I taught at the university, for which I won the title "Narkiss Cartis" (Narkiss of the cards).
During my studies at the different libraries I learned to distinguish between two types of librarians: One who thinks he is there to guard the books and manuscripts so that scholars can easily use them; while the other is sure he must guard them from overuse by the researchers. Here are two extreme examples. In 1978 a small group of seven Israelis, most of whom were art historians, managed to join a mission of 400 French scholars for a conference in Leningrad and Moscow, organised by UNESCO every four years. Although we had visas to the USSR, the customs officials refused entry to the Israelis; we entered only after the entire mission returned beyond the border. But this is not the subject of our story. At that time I was writing a book on the Armenian art treasures in Jerusalem and was in correspondence with the chief librarian of the Matenaderan Library in Yerevan asking for permission to see Armenian manuscripts in the Library. He willingly agreed and therefore I registered for a tour of Armenia and Georgia, granted to us as a bonus to the conference. When I arrived in Yerevan the librarian allowed me to see, describe and photograph all the manuscripts I needed, and due to the short time I had at my disposal, he recruited two persons who helped me turn the pages and made sure I get a sandwich and tea during my work.
In contrast, the most unpleasant librarian I ever came across was the one at the National Library in Istanbul. She arrived at eleven instead of nine o’clock in the morning and allowed me one manuscript at a time. After I returned the first manuscript I waited about half an hour but another never came. When I inquired, her answer was short and simple: "Bakshish!” I understood what she meant, took out a 100 pound note, tore it into two and gave her one half. She understood me too and the manuscripts arrived one after another. I obviously have many more stories on librarians, the most moving was when I had been invited by the librarian of the University of Leipzig to a concert at the St. Thomas Church, which ended in a secret Catholic Mass, forbidden then by the Communist regime, and which took place at Bach’s choir gallery. I then understood how the Jewish Maranos must have felt in Spain.
During my work at the Warburg, I participated in Hugo Buchthal's introductory lectures on medieval art, from which I learned of his vast knowledge on iconography and style. In one of his lectures on the facades of Gothic churches, Buchthal dealt with the compositional element in style and mentioned his teacher Wilhelm Vöge from the University of Freiburg, who emphasised this element in his book on Gothic sculpture in France and tried to develop a unified method to deal with style. Wilhelm Vöge, who had also written on Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Donatello and Dürer, taught for ten years in Freiburg, where his archive is housed, comprising his letters and two books on Gothic sculpture in France which were never published. It was customary in Germany up to World War II for students to wander from one teacher to another for one or two semesters in different universities. Thus Vöge became the teacher of Panofsky, who dedicated to him his book Early Niderlandish Paintings. Reading Vöge's book on Gothic sculpture opened my eyes to understand how to deal with style in general, a subject neglected by most scholars of art. Many saw a similar posture of a figure as a fundamental stylistic element, instead of an element which can be repeated in various styles.
Slowly but surely I started developing a methodology to help me become familiar with the style of a certain period, region, workshop or artist, including all the different elements, starting with the composition, density, methods to create depth, proportions, figure style and facial features. Another art historian who helped me understand style at that time was Ernst Kitzinger, also one of Vöge's students, whom I had known only through his writings but appreciated his keen eye and concise stylistic definitions.  We became friends when I spent a Sabbatical in Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, where he served as director. If you wish to know the source from which I drew my methods of stylistic analysis, go to Vöge. In 1996 Kathryn Brush published The Shaping of Art History on Vöge and Adolph Goldschmidt, the creators of the art history discipline.
One of the most interesting experiences at the Warburg was the eclectic seminar conducted by Ernst Gombrich after he was appointed director of the institute. Once a fortnight, a librarian, professor, tenured researcher or one of the fellows like me, had to present a paper on one aspect of his work, which was followed by a critical and exhaustive discussion, in which it was possible to criticise even the great historians. The questions and criticism grew in intensity when on occasions the critical philosopher Karl Popper, Gombrich close friend, participated in the seminar. My lecture dealt with the early sources of biblical illuminations in Sephardi Haggadot, a lecture which drew me to a hard argument with Gombrich on Cecil Roth's article on the same subject published in the Warburg journal. My acquaintance with Gombrich and his cellist wife Ilze had occurred years beforehand. During my first year at the Courtauld, when I was still a novice in the profession, my Israeli friends Yoske Agassi, Popper's student, and his wife Judith Agassi-Buber, invited me for supper. Being an Israeli, I arrived in shorts, not knowing that Sir Ernst and his wife will be there too. I had not known who he was. Only when he investigated me in depth did I realised I was talking to an art historian well versed in all the subjects we were discussing. His gentle wife immediately invited me to dinner. When they left my friend Yoske told me who they were, and when I went to the Gombrichs for dinner I was properly dressed in a suit and armed with perfect Gombrich knowledge. Gombrich's and Buchtahl's wives competed on the quality of meals they prepared for their guests and each used to enquire with her guests what her friend had served.
The Golden Haggadah which I researched was one of the popular Sephardi manuscripts produced in Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries, most of them in Catalonia and mainly in Barcelona, at the order of aristocratic and wealthy Jewish families. Each of the twenty-one sumptuous Haggadot has a unified programme of decoration. Each manuscript starts with a collection of biblical scenes from Genesis and Exodus. The Golden Haggadah starts with Adam giving names to the animals and ends with the Song of Miriam following the crossing of the Red Sea. In addition, each Haggadah has text and ceremonial illustrations. Comparing the Haggadot, some were similar in their iconographic choice, and others showed stylistic affinities, but no two Haggadot were created by one artist. The first quires of biblical illustrations in the Golden Haggadah were created under the influence of the French royal style, while the second part was influenced by the Italian Sienese style popular in Spain since 1320. The manuscript closest in style is the book of laws from Barcelona of 1321, ordered by the King of Aragon Jaime II, and housed in the French National Library in Paris.
While dealing with the iconography of biblical illustrations, I made tables comparing most of the Hebrew, Latin and Greek manuscripts, from the beginning to the late Middle Ages, which constitute the appendix to my doctoral thesis, but do not appear in the two books I published on the Golden Haggadah: an Introduction to the facsimile edition and a booklet of the British Library. This iconographical collection continues to serve me in almost all my research to date. The most useful source was the introduction by M.R. James to the early facsimile of 1927 to the 13th century, Picture Bible of Shah Abass, in the collection of Pierpont Morgan in New York. James, who catalogued the illuminated manuscripts in all libraries in England, was one of the most important scholars in mediaeval biblical illuminations. In the introduction mentioned above, James included each and every mediaeval biblical illustration from the 4th century on, in all media: wall paintings, mosaics, stone, wood and ivory sculpting, manuscripts with all their elements and contents, countries, western and oriental schools in which they were made. I continued to use this introduction up to my latest research, completed a few months ago on the illuminations of the Ashburnham Pentateuch, which is no doubt my Magnum opus to date.
In fact, my first interest in the Ashburnham Pentateuch was aroused during the year in which I examined the writings my father left after his death. Among the collections of biblical photographs I found large black and white photographs, some taken under ultraviolet light. Since they had no captions I did not know what they were and what my father intended to do with them. When I arrived at the Warburg I found the phonographs of the miniatures identified as the Latin manuscript of the Pentateuch, housed today at the National Library in Paris; and the 1883 facsimile which was done while the Pentateuch was still in the collection of the Duke of Ashburnham, with an introduction by Oscar von Gebhardt. The facsimile, originally in yellowish-brown, was a hand-painted copy housed at the Warburg.
Examining the photographs I found that in the first illustration describing the Creation of the World, next to the Creator was an incomprehensible round object. Different scholars identified it as Earth looked upon by the Creator while planning the Creation. To my amazement I found eyes and mouth within the circle, suggesting an additional figure in the Creation. When I showed this to my instructors, they chose to differ, but since I was about to travel to Paris, Wormald consented to give me an introductory letter to the manuscript librarian, Jean Porcher, warning me that no one had seen the manuscript since Mayer Schapiro saw it in 1927.
As expected, the well-mannered Porcher refused to show me the manuscript and rejected my suggestion that there is another figure there. However, the next morning he invited me to his study, generally out of bounds at the National Library, and on his desk was the sumptuous manuscript. Looking through ultraviolet light, two Creators were clearly seen in each of the scenes within the same miniature, the bearded Father and the clean-shaven Son. From then on I was the only person allowed to see the manuscript at any time. In an article I published with the encouragement of André Grabar, I suggested that a Carolingian artist in Tours, France, where the manuscript was during the Carolingian era, was responsible for hiding the second figure by painting it pink, probably from fear of dualism. At that stage, however, I did not know why the original artist drew two Creators and not the Trinity. Furthermore, why did he draw the spirit of God hovering over the water as an angel, also overpainted in pink by the Carolingian artist? Having discussed with Mayer Schapiro in New York what I had found, this wonderful scholar of mediaeval and modern art gave me the original facsimile as a gift. My affair with the Ashburnham Pentateuch has lasted over forty years, often in Paris, where I stayed with and was encouraged by my cousins Larissa and Hubert Cain.
I discovered the iconographic explanation regarding the origin of these scenes during the last stages of my research. Studying in the last eight years in Paris, Washington, Princeton and at the Warburg, I succeeded to decipher the secrets and origins of the Ashburnham. I discovered the various archaeological layers of its copies, from a 3rd century illuminated  Jewish Aramaic paraphrase, through an illuminated manuscript of the Syriac Peshitta (translation of the Scriptures), to a Greek Octateuch and a Pentateuch written in the Vetus Latina version at the end of the 4th century at the monastery of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, which served as a model for the illustrations of the Ashburnham Pentateuch, in its Vulgate version by S. Jerome at the beginning of the 5th century. In the last years of my research and writing I was aided by my former students Aliza Cohen, Ariella Amar and Andreina Contessa. I compared the style of the manuscript to that of the wall mosaics in Rome at the beginning of the 5th century, particularly of Santa Maria Maggiore. Those interested in this study can read my introduction to the facsimile when it appears in print. I hope that my conclusions coincide with my father's assumptions when he acquired the expensive photographs in order to research them.
My interest in Jewish art came naturally, both from my work on the illuminated Haggadah and my father's occupation with objects and Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. During my travels among libraries and museums I discovered that in spite of the existence of publications on Jewish Art, the finds on which the majority of the scholars wrote were limited in scope and the examples of certain well known objects were repeated. My knowledge on more objects and manuscripts made me change the conclusions arrived at by earlier scholars regarding the history of Jewish art. I understood then, why my father had founded a huge archive of photographs at the Museum, which he used in his research; and since I became familiar with the copies of the Princeton Index of Christian Art housed at the Warburg and the Vatican, I thought it advisable to create a similar index of Jewish art. I discussed this with my instructors, colleagues and the librarians of the Warburg Institute and received great support from the then chief librarian Otto Kurtz, who knew the place of every book in the Library.
Short and chubby Kurtz, who skipped light-footedly between the five floors of the Warburg Library, told my Jerusalem friend Dr. Moshe Spitzer about me and my work on Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. Spitzer approached the University of Leipzig suggesting they ask me to write an introduction to the facsimile pages of the famous Mahzor housed there. I thus arrived in 1962 to Communist Leipzig for a month, and stayed in a hotel room with the two large volumes of the Mahzor, and two body guards supervising my movements day and night. The people of the Leipzig Edition competed among themselves who would join me for dinner, accompany me to a concert or the opera, which was then the only modern building in the bombed and ruined city, a building donated by the Communist Polish State. The Catholic librarian Ilze and her family who took me to a secret Mass at the St. Thomas Church were mentioned earlier. All Ilze wanted from me was that I send her from London The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery and a pair of nylons. In Leipzig I also met Rabbi Elias Katz who had arrived especially from Prague to see me. He was the editor of the facsimile and had written an independent introduction to the manuscript. When I asked how he arrived at his conclusions and why did he not write references in his introduction, the honourable Rabbi stood up and silenced me in Yiddish, in which we conversed: “S’teitch ich leb noch, m’ken mich fregen” (What do you mean? I am still alive, you can ask me!).
Dr. Spitzer was the person who recruited me to catalogue all the Hebrew illuminated manuscripts in the British Isles under the auspices of Yad Meir Institute in Jerusalem. He sent me the scholar of illuminated manuscripts and Renaissance drawings Rosi Schilling, whom he knew from earlier days, when before WWII she made a list of all the Hebrew illuminated manuscript in Europe for of the legendary Zalman Schoken while still in Berlin, when Spitzer worked at his publishing house. When I met Rosi she was 76 years old, completely bent, her eyesight weak and no knowledge of Hebrew. Spitzer had not seen her since their days in Berlin, but in his opinion cataloguing of manuscripts could not be done without her. Later, the National Academies of Britain and Israel joined as patrons of the cataloguing, which eventually facilitated the publication of one volume of the Spanish and Portuguese manuscripts. Some of my students worked with me on the cataloguing and no doubt learned a great deal.
When completing my doctoral research I had of course to pass an exam, at the end of which Wormald stood up and declared it “Summa cum laude”, adding a rare compliment: "M.R. James would have been proud of you." The question then arose where I could find work. I was decided to return home; especially after we were guests at a seminar of the Zionist Federation during Hanukkah, where I lectured on Hanukkah lamps. The young participants, some of whom immigrated to Israel, among them Sheila and Michael Fox and Harry Sapir who are here with us tonight.
At the end of that event, the participants asked my son Doron, who was liked by all, to sing a song for his birthday. They lifted him onto the central table and Doron broke into song he had just learned at school: "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little lord Jesus lay down his sweet head." This decisively determined where we were going. I had known of course that in Jerusalem Moshe Barash was lecturing on history of art and they were waiting for a teacher with a Ph.D. in order to open an art history department. I did not understand then why my application was not answered. In this situation Wormald suggested I teach palaeography at Kings College, and Buchthal suggested to Prof. Peter Briger, another art historian who had fled from Germany to England, then to Toronto, Canada, with all his collection of biblical photographs, to invite me to be his successor. Briger responded with enthusiasm, and started intensive negotiations which lasted about a month, stating the benefits I would receive if I agree to come. Following all my refusals, Buchthal phoned Briger and told him in simple German: "You and I never had a homeland. This man has a home to go back to." Finally, it transpired from a telephone conversation with Yehoshua Prawer, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities that I could not be invited to teach since they did not wish to pay the expenses of my move; but if I came I could teach.
When we returned to Israel, it transpired that in Jerusalem they had forgotten to include me in the curriculum and I had to hang notices throughout the Givat Ram campus announcing my lectures. Surprisingly, my first lecture on mediaeval art had a full classroom. It was held in the hall of the then Institute of Archaeology. Since I was not part of the university staff, I received from the Academic Secretary Poznansky a two-year scholarship in the name of Otto Warburg, brother of Aby from Hamburg and London. And since the scholarship was too small, I was forced teach at the Technion in Haifa once a week history of architecture to last year students, who had no interest in the subject, since most of them had already been working as architects. Two years later, the Department of Art History was officially opened with three teachers: Barash, Ziva Amishai-Meisels, Barash's doctoral student, and myself. I shall not tire you with all the usual stress and pains of upgrading which every university teacher undergoes; suffice it to say that those were different days and teacher-student relationships were different. I found satisfaction in teaching, especially my bright students, knowing they would continue to use my research methods, expand them and create new ones. I liked to encourage and watch the development of every student as a researcher and a personality. I particularly appreciated this, thinking of my father who had no students. In 1952 my father was asked to prepare for the university a curriculum in the history of art, but this did not materialize owing to lack of funds, which saddened my father greatly.
Teaching at the university for many years enabled me, with the help of my students, to develop a keen eye for Christian and Jewish iconography. In those days I founded the Society for Jewish Art together with the late Dr. Yona Ben-Sasson, Tzvi Steiner, David Cassutto and others, a society designed to disseminate among the Israeli public the knowledge on Jewish art; the society continues to do so to the present day, and this lecture series in the name of my parents is one of its activities. In the 1960s, after returning to Israel, I created the Index for Jewish Art, about which I shall speak later on. At the same time I served as the art editor of the Hebrew Encyclopaedia as well as the Encyclopaedia Judaica. The editors of the latter undertook to make the archive of 80,000 photographs, which I collected with the help of my students, the basis for the Index. However, when the Encyclopaedia had been completed, all funds had evaporated. While working on the Encyclopaedia, its editor, Cecil Roth, asked me to write a book on the history of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, which was to be given as a present to those purchasing the Encyclopaedia. I was happy to oblige and worked on the book for about three years while still teaching and editing. As usual, I completed the book in a taxi taking me to the airport before flying with the family for a Sabbatical year to the Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, with my loyal typist Louis typing away the end of the text. My efforts to find an institute which will adopt the Index continued at Beth Hatefutsoth in the 1970s, where I was responsible for their exhibits, transforming to the visual the philosophy of the poet Abba Kovner; I also founded there a large photographic archive with the aid of some of my students. There too funds disappeared the moment the building of Beth Hatefutsoth was completed.
The idea of creating an index of Jewish art was prompted in England, while studying Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. In 1968, together with my friend Gabrielle Sed-Rajna in Paris we developed the first templates of the Index. We greatly improved the models of the Princeton Index when we added photographs to the descriptions and entered them into a basic primitive IBM computer; these were later entered onto the Aleph computer programme, which facilitated the publication of six volumes of cards. The first main supporters of the project were the Israel Academy of Science initiated by Yehoshua Prawer and Jean Glenisson from the Institute de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris.
I perceived the Index as a most important educational tool to help research and expand the knowledge of Jewish art of students, teachers, and even kindergarten children, who could learn through the visual the spirit and values of Judaism. I also perceived the Index as the required combination between Jewish and general art, which in my opinion is the basis for understanding the place of the art of a minority group, which cannot develop its own unique style. Returning to Jerusalem I understood that the Index must be extended to include additional periods and media apart from manuscripts. I then recruited Ruth Jacoby to describe archaeological objects and structures and my late student Orpa Slepak, to describe synagogues and their contents. Other student-researchers joined the team, some of them serving as heads of sections. In the following years we extended the documentation of manuscripts to other libraries: in France, Hungary, the Vatican, Italy, Germany and Israel.
In 1969-70, when in Washington, I became acquainted with many art historians from all over the world; the seminar we organized at Dumbarton Oaks dealt particularly with Christian iconography, but also with the style of ivory works and mosaics housed at the Institute’s collection. My lectures through the United States brought me into contact with art historians such as Kurt Weitzmann and his student Herbert Kessler in Princeton, Ruth Mellinkoff in Los Angeles, all of whom became my friends as well as my critics, I am glad to say. My meetings with Weitzmann were most significant. He was convinced that the sources of the illuminations in the Ashburnham were not of what he called the “Cotton Genesis Recention” and was sure I would find one day the Jewish sources of the Ashburnham miniatures, since in his opinion it was clear that Jewish art was one of the main sources for Christian art.
While visiting the States I realized how esoteric Jewish art was in the eyes of historians, and in order to make it better known, more publications were needed. I thought of a periodical for Jewish art in which researchers from around the world could publish their research. I was in luck when visiting the Judaica collection of Maurice Spertus in Chicago. After a day of becoming acquainted with the man and his collection, Maurice asked me: "What would you do if you had enough money right now?" I answered immediately and without hesitation: "I would publish a journal for Jewish art, in which researchers and students could publish their research." "How much would it cost?" Maurice asked. I did not know but dared to askfor $10,000 for each issue. "You have it for five years" was Maurice's answer. Thus was established the Journal of Jewish Art; the next five volumes were funded by Ruth Mellinkoff, and later we raised additional funds and reached volume 23-24 in 1998. The last 13 volumes were edited by Aliza Cohen, who was aided by Ziva Amishai-Meisels and Bianca Kuehnel in the last two double volumes.
Returning to Israel I realised that there is a need to create appropriate financial conditions for the stability of the Index. During all those years I tried to get the support of the university for the project. The only president who understood the significance of documentation was Abe Harman, who thought that the best way to raise funds for the Index would be to establish a centre for Jewish art, which would be independent to do so. However, to establish a research centre at the university, an endowment fund of $300,000 was needed. Although I succeeded in getting donations from various donors, I had no idea how I would succeed in reaching such a sum. Since he thought that "your objective is too important to be neglected" Abe suggested that "the next time I go to the States, you will accompany me and see how it is done." And thus I came to observe him and was full of admiration with his methods of fundraising. I discussed with him each gesture he made, until one day, in front of the door of one of the richest publishers in Boston, Abe Bornstein, one of my father's oldest friends, Harman said to me: "Now you will ask him the sum you need." I was startled but had no choice; I left his room with a pledge for the entire amount I needed. Since then I travelled to different countries and managed to raise many millions throughout the years, which enabled us to continue our work.
Our more stable economic situation enabled us to expand the Index to include modern and contemporary art. This raised the need for accurate definitions of art which has no direct link to religion and ritual objects. The archaeology section was enlarged while attempting to enter onto the computer the treasures we collected and the complex reference system we created. The researchers of the Index were M.A. students specializing in art, archaeology, ethnography or any Jewish subject, of whom several became doctoral students. In 1991 the fifth section was added to the Index, architecture of synagogues, which was established by Aliza Cohen after she became the head of the Center for Jewish Art. This occurred following her visit to Auschwitz concentration camp, and realizing the need for documenting the endangered Jewish culture, especially of perished communities. Under her directorship, Aliza extended the documentation of the Index to the former Soviet Union, to North Africa, Balkans, India, France, England and others; and before our new Director Rina Talgam took office, we had documented in forty countries and amassed over a quarter of a million entries in the Index.
Our main objectives at present are to make the Index financially stable and recruit new researchers and to post the Index onto the internet to make it accessible to every researcher. I consider Index of Jewish Art my life project, hoping it will develop with your help in the future, and serve as an educational tool of Jewish visual heritage for future generations. If you wish to give me a present for by birthday, I should be most grateful if you would contribute to the students’ scholarship fund of the Center for Jewish Art.
As for myself, I plan to write several books and articles; first and foremost, a book on the life and pioneering activities of my father, then a book on the Jewish sources of Christian art. I also plan a book on the elements of style in art, and I must complete and update the book on Hanukkah lamps, which I wrote three times already. I hope that by one hundred and twenty I shall manage to write some of these.
Bless you all!


Translation: Dvora Sax                                                                                            1
לגרסה העברית

 

 

 

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