The Great Tapestries of Marc Chagall

by Gad Nahshon

"Do you know that some of Marc Chagall's great tapestries are decorating the Israeli Knesset? I have tried to develop awareness over there to this fact by suggesting to the Knesset to produce stamps of these unique work works of art," said Jacob Baal-Teshuva, a distinguished expert of Marc Chagall's art and a respected international curator.

Baal-Teshuva recently wrote a new sensational biography of his friend for many years, Marc Chagall. This year, he surprised us with a new book about Chagall's less known work of art: Tapestries. This book "Chagall Tapestries" (Taschen-New York, London, Paris - 2000) is one more act of celebration of the artistic genius of Chagall. Thanks to the superb research of Baal-Teshuva, we can enjoy the great art of Chagall. Baal-Teshuva not only provides the reader with pictures of Chagall's many tapestries, he also 'decorated' each picture with relevant quotations from Chagall's writings.

Of course Chagall linked himself to an ancient art which was created in France. "Tapestries are more beautiful than paintings. They seem to be the dream of them." Some artists tended to believe so. Well, when you face Marc Chagall's works, you might come to the same ancient conclusion about the art of tapestries.

In Feb. 1962, Chagall visited Jerusalem. Then he promised to prepare three tapestries for the Knesset. He also promised to use the history of the Jews and Zionism as the theme of these tapestries. The process took place from 1962 to 1968. The actual weaving was done, as Baal-Teshuva tells us, in France at the 'Manufacture Nationale Des Gobelins' which was founded in 1667. In these tapestries Chagall expressed the Exodus, Law of Moses, King David, and the establishment of Israel. This work of powerful imagery made Chagall very happy. He enjoyed his personal success of working with weavers. He attended the official ceremony, the unveiling, of the three tapestries on June 18, 1969.

Baal-Teshuva illuminates that "for Chagall, tapestries were a completely new venture and a unique experience." "Chagall left us in the 'Knesset' with a symphony of colors for the eyes," writes Baal-Teshuva and Chagall said: "You have to arrive at an age like mine before you can produce something like this." Chagall, a prolific artist, produced many great tapestries but it should be noted that many of them expressed his linkage to the Old Testament. In the Knesset we see: "the entry to Jerusalem" (King David-Moses with the Ten Commandments) "Exodus" (Isaiah prophecy).

In 1971, Chagall produced 'The Creation' and in 1973, 'Moses' (holding the Ten Commandments). Chagall once said: "The Holy Spirit...hovers here in the air." In 1973, he also created another tapestry: 'The Prophet Jeremiah' and he said that it tells the world the story of the 'chosen people'.

Chagall produced many tapestries with non-Jewish topics. He died on March 28, 1985 at the age of 97. He died painting his last work of art. Pablo Picasso once said: "When Chagall paints, you do not know if he is asleep or awake. Somewhere or other inside his head there must be an angel."

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