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The Sixth International Seminar on Jewish Art

Scripture and Picture:

The Bible in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art

Seminar program

The Sixth International Seminar of the Center for Jewish Art, which took place in Jerusalem from June 13-17, 1999, explored the use of Biblical images and themes in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art. Some five hundred scholars, researchers, educators and curators from twenty countries, including the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Russia, Turkey, as well as countries as diverse as Mexico, Korea and Zimbabwe, attended 140 engaging lectures in which scholars discussed the ways the three faiths have interpreted the message of Biblical revelation in their art.

"By searching our own artistic roots and examining the influence of the Bible on the visual heritage of other cultures and faiths, we affirm what we have in common rather than what divides us," said Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Director of the Center for Jewish Art. "In this way we are building bridges between nations towards a new culture of religions."

The extensive range of themes addressed by the conference chaired by Professor Elisheva Revel-Neher, of the Department of the History of Art of the Hebrew University, included topics such as: The Origins of Bible Illustration; the Bible in Medieval Christian Iconography; Biblical Figures in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art; Women in the Bible, Women and the Bible; Biblical Inspiration in Architecture; and The Bible as Inspiration in Modern Jewish Art.

Prof. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna and Prof. Elisheva Revel-Neher, Chairperson of the Sixth International Seminar on Jewish Art, with President Ezer Weizman at a reception for Seminar participants at the President’s residence.

Prof. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna and Prof. Elisheva Revel-Neher with President Ezer Weizman

The sessions devoted to The Bible in Islamic Art were among the highlights of the seminar and, for the first time, Islamic scholars from Turkey participated in one of the Center’s international seminars. Professor Priscilla Soucek of New York University, a member of the Steering Committee presented the keynote lecture titled: Signs and Symbols: Biblical Traditions in Islamic Art. Dr. Serpil Bagçi of Hacettepe Üniversitesi, Ankara, presented a lecture titled: Solomon in Ottoman Visual Culture, in which she explored the particularly “Ottoman” image of Solomon as it developed in conjunction with Ottoman textual images. Professor Zeren Tanindi from Uludag Üniversitesi, Bursa, Turkey discussed the images of Maryam (Miriam) in three fourteenth century Qur’ans. According to Tanindi, the illustrations reflect a particular fascination with this Biblical figure during this period.

A special session was held on June 15, to honor Professor Bezalel Narkiss, 1999 Israel Prize laureate, and founder of the Center for Jewish Art. Following the warm address by Ambassador Moshe Arad, Vice President, the Hebrew University, Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin payed homage to Narkiss, with a historical overview of the Center for Jewish Art. Also contributing to this session was Professor C. Michael Kauffmann, former director of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London who lectured on: The Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon Art. Citing the recently published Byzantine Octateuchs by the late Kurt Weitzmann and himself, Professor Massimo Bernabo of the University of Florence noted that this cycle, which originated in a Christian milieu, included a number of early Jewish pictorial models.

Among the other highlights of the five-day Seminar, was the plenary session devoted to the Origins of Bible Illustration. In his lecture Jewish Sources of the Ashburnham Pentateuch, Professor Narkiss discussed the influences present in the Ashburnham Pentateuch, proposing that this early Latin manuscript containing many midrashic iconographical elements may have been modeled on a Jewish manuscript, an illuminated Aramaic Pentateuch or its paraphrase. In the same session, Professor Gabrielle Sed-Rajna of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, spoke about the development of biblical illustration in her lecture: Thoughts on the Origins and the Formation of Bible Illustration.

Also addressing the plenary session were Professor David Wright of the University of California, Berkeley, in a lecture titled: The Quedlingburg Itala and the Beginnings of Illustrated Biblical Manuscripts, and Josef Engemann of the University of Salzburg, lecturing on: Methodological Problems Regarding the Interpretation of Biblical Scenes in Early Christian Art.

A very interesting session dedicated to the Song of Songs, featured two lectures entitled: The Liturgy of Love: Song of Songs in Italian Art. Princeton University Professor Marilyn Aronberg Lavin discussed the works of Cimabue located in the apse of the Church of San Francesco in Assisi, and Professor Irving Lavin of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, examined the work of Michelangelo in the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Architecture was a subject featured in some of the lectures. Professor Walter Cahn of Yale University, a leading member of the Steering Committee, explored in his lecture: Architecture, Exegesis, Symbol, the relation between biblical interpretation and the practice of architecture, particularly in works connected with the circle of the Victorines in the twelfth century. In a lecture titled: The Temple Vision of Ezekiel and the Russian Sculptural Decoration of the 12th Century, Dr. Alexei Lidov of the Centre for Eastern Christian Culture, Moscow, hypothesized that the appearance of an unusual architectural type of Russian church in the mid-twelfth century in the capital city of Vladimir, was inspired by the symbolic image of the Heavenly Jerusalem in the vision of Ezekiel.

The sections devoted to biblical images in contemporary art included a lecture by University of California, Los Angeles Professor Albert Boime: Belshazzar’s Feast: Anglo-American Visions of the Apocalypse. Professor Boime presented the work of two artists, John Martin and Washington Allston, and discussed the influence of the prophet Daniel in their interpretations of Belshazzar’s feast. Professor Matthew Baigell of Rutgers University in his lecture Ben Shahn’s Biblical Imagery, discussed Ben Shahn’s work after 1948, suggesting that the artist experienced a spiritual crisis after the founding of the State of Israel which was reflected in his work.

In addition to the lectures, the seminar participants attended workshops with international educators and artists all of whom integrate biblical images in their artistic expression. Tours led by experts in the field, were conducted in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. They included visits to the recent excavations south of the Temple Mount, the City of David, Mt. Zion which is important to the three monotheistic religions, and the Armenian Church St. Jacob which is decorated with biblical scenes.

Additional tours took our visitors to the Great Yeshiva in the Mea She’arim Neighborhood, the Wolfson Museum’s rich collection of Jewish ceremonial objects and the Islamic Museum.

Venturing to Tel Aviv, a group of seminar participants visited the Eretz Israel Museum, and the Cymbalista Center of Tel Aviv University where they viewed the new exhibit, A Mirror on Jewish Life, which featured a selection of the Moldovan family Judaica collection.

A visit to the Zippori National Park was organized for the foreign participants of the Seminar. The tour of the excavations of this ancient Galilee village which contains rich remnants of Sepphoris from the Roman and Byzantine periods, was led by archaeologist Dr. Zeev Weiss of the Hebrew University.

Special Seminar events included the opening ceremony at the Israel Museum. Participants gathered for cocktails in the sculpture garden of the Israel Museum, toured the Shrine of the Book, and heard a lecture by Professor Yair Zakovitch, Dean of the Faculty of the Humanities, the Hebrew University. Zakovitch discussed the absence of descriptions in the Bible which provoked a wealth of varied artistic interpretation.

A reception was also held at the residence of the President of Israel, where participants meeting with President Ezer Weizman enjoyed his warm personality.

The Festive Closing Ceremony was held at the Rockefeller Museum. Participants toured the museum’s exhibits and then joined together for dinner surrounding the pool in the central courtyard–a truly exquisite setting on a balmy summer eve. Greetings to the assembled guests by Professor Avigdor Posèq, Head of the Department of the History of Art, were followed by an address by Dr. José-Maria Ballester, Head of the Cultural Heritage Department of the Council of Europe which gave patronage to the seminar. Immersed in a mood of celebration and warm feeling, Professor Narkiss and Professor Revel-Neher presented their closing remarks.

Citing the tremendous success with which the past two Seminars have focused on the interrelationship of Jewish, Islamic and Christian art, Dr. Cohen-Mushlin announced that the next Seminar in the year 2002 will also address a subject common to all: Sacred Spaces in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Cultures.

The seminar was made possible by grants from:

The Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung, Essen

The Beracha Foundation

Special thanks to the following institutions for their assistance:

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Austrian Embassy, Tel Aviv; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Conference Committee; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel; Ministry of Tourism, Israel; The Clarice and Robert Smith Center for the History of Art, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The address of Dr. José-Maria Ballester, head of the Cultural Heritage Department of the Council of Europe in the closing ceremony of the seminar:

The Council of Europe enjoys a close relationship with the Center for Jewish Art and with its Director, Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin. Let me say here how important this cooperation is for us. We appreciate this dialogue among religions, based on the recognition of our cultural heritage. I am particularly glad to have the opportunity to recall this dialogue, launched by the Council of Europe, right here in Jerusalem, sacred city for three monotheistic religions, where our common roots, our memories and our reference systems all come together.

Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin and Jose-Maria Ballester

Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin and José-Maria Ballester

The subject you have chosen "Scripture and Picture: The Bible in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art" seeks to enhance the knowledge, interpretation and influence of the Bible, the pivotal reference of our civilization. You approach the subject from different perspectives in an evolutionary fashion: moving from the word, which lies at the foundation of our conscience and of our value systems, to written language, be it handwritten or printed, on to the plastic representation of this word, be it ancient or contemporary. You have accomplished this using a common Jewish, Christian and Islamic approach, which–quite independently of the scientific value of your studies–is of the highest interest to the Council of Europe.

Our organization is the oldest of all European institutions. Counting forty-one member states, forty-seven states, parties to the European cultural convention, and five observers including Israel, we are facing today a major historical challenge: turning our continent, once it has overcome its division in geopolitical blocs, into a vast space of democratic security. The notion of a common cultural heritage, enriched by its diversity, plays a key role in this process.

Cultural heritage, which comprises not only material assets, but also intellectual, ethical and spiritual values, should not become a source of self-assertion and conflict, but should help communities and individuals to discover and accept one another: a space for comprehension, search and discovery of otherness. That is why the dialogue amongst religions on the values and the assets that make up our common cultural heritage forms an essential element in such a process.

We belong to a civilization with deep religious roots, religion being an essential component in the affirmation of our own identity. We are, however, increasingly confronted with a major fallacy: that of confusing the practice of religion–which as we all well know belongs to the sphere of the individual's conscience and liberty–with the culture of religions. We are as a consequence about to lose one of the fundamental keys to the understanding of our identity and of the identity of others. Worse, we deprive future generations of such a key.

The Council of Europe will launch in the year 2000 an awareness campaign on the theme: " Europe, A Common Heritage" following a decision taken by the heads of state and government at their last summit in Strasbourg. The ambition of the campaign is to trigger a dynamic of peace, an appeal to solidarity, an invitation to living together, in short, prompt a feeling of common belonging as Europeans. One of the campaign's major transnational projects will concern precisely religious building complexes and sites. It is within this project that the development of a culture of religions will be pursued.

The way is long and arduous in the pursuit of our common humanistic goals of peaceful congress. But walk along this path we must, and with your efforts you are leading the way. A poet of the Spanish language, Luis Cernuda, has written: ' I believe in myself, because one day I shall be all that I love.' Allow me to paraphrase the poet and invite all of us to say 'We believe in the other because one day we will be all that we love.' "





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