Professor Bezalel Narkiss:
A National Treasure
On Independence Day, April 21, 1999, our own Professor Bezalel Narkiss founder of the Center for Jewish Art and its Director for over a decade, was awarded the Israel Prize for Art History. This prestigious award is in recognition for his life achievements in the field of Jewish art and for his prolific work in the area of Medieval and Renaissance Hebrew illuminated manuscripts.
Currently the Nicolas Landau Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Hebrew University and the Chairman of the Center for Jewish Art's academic committee, Prof. Narkiss began his academic career in the Department of History at the Hebrew University. He turned to the study of art history upon his father's death in 1957. The elder Narkiss was the founder and director of the Bezalel Museum, a collection which later served as the base for the founding of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Intent on enlarging upon his knowledge of art, Narkiss pursued a course of study in Medieval art at London University's Warburg Institute. After receiving his Doctorate in 1963, he returned to the Hebrew University and became one of the founders of the Department of Art History.
Prof. Narkiss' work in Jewish art has established this field as a true academic discipline. Among his most important works are Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts (1969), The Golden Haggadah (1970), Armenian Treasures of Jerusalem (1979), Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Isles: Spanish and Portuguese Manuscripts (1982), The Kennicott Bible (1985), The Worms Mahzor (1985), and Illuminations of Hebrew Bibles of Leningrad (1990).
In 1968 he established together with Prof. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna the Index of Jewish Art, starting with manuscripts, the first volume of which was published in 1976. In 1974, he founded and edited the Journal of Jewish Art, an annual which continues to publish the latest work in the field. In 1979 Prof. Narkiss established the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University, a project encompassing all aspects of Jewish material culture from ancient times to the present. The Index currently includes documentation of tens of thousands of objects ranging from illuminated manuscripts, ritual objects, archaeology modern art, funerary monuments and architecture of synagogues.
An ambassador of scholarship and methodology in the field of Jewish art, Prof. Narkiss has been a Senior Fellow at Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Study in Washington, D.C., at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the CNRS in Paris. He was a guest professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York and at Brown University. In 1997-98, Prof. Narkiss was the Samuel H. Kress Professor in the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and in 1998-99, a visiting professor at Princeton University.
In addition to scores of articles and books on art and Jewish art, in particular Prof. Narkiss has inspired hundreds of students, curators and collectors to pursue excellence in the field of Art History. The Israel Prize is a fitting recognition of Prof. Narkiss' multi-faceted role in preserving the rich artistic heritage of the Jewish people.