Chagall, Marc - VM - Willem de Vink
Marc Chagall: Bezalel
by Willem de Vink
Bezalel is the artist from the book of Exodus who designed the tabernacle and executed it with the help of talented assistants. The tabernacle was a large mobile tent, the place where God wanted to meet with his people. It was a well thought-out and beautifully designed work of art, that initially travelled with the Israelites and afterwards was accorded a prominent place in the Promised Land. The temple that Solomon commissioned to be built in Jerusalem more than four hundred years later was closely derived from the tabernacle’s design. Ultimately the Israelites used the design of Bezalel for 1500 years and we still study its construction, objects, and rituals to discover how God wants to be with us today.
In his drawing Marc Chagall pictures Bezalel with many striking details. The artist is shown seated, which means that he is working from a position of rest. He is resting in God’s grace. He keeps his face averted from his work of art, likely because he wants to be connected to God while he is working. That idea is enhanced by the gold-yellow ribbon going from lower left across the whole picture to the upper right-hand corner. The yellow expresses the heavenly spheres, where the mind of the artist dwells. That is why you see a second (spiritual) eye outside of his body that along with the ribbon of light looks upwards. Bezalel is aware of his calling, because the heavenly glow touches his heart and raised right hand, which he offers in service.
On the other side, in the left upper corner of the drawing, another yellow area has been added. In this area a crowned bird flies with flaming wings towards Bezalel. The artist has turned his right ear towards the animal. He catches the secrets that the heavenly messenger whistles into his ear. It is the Holy Spirit, who connects heaven and earth.
Parallel with and underneath the yellow ribbon runs a blue ribbon. It touches the instruments the artist holds in his left hand. Bezalel is holding them loosely, so that they still can be moved by the blue, i.e. by the Holy Spirit who is flowing from the artist´s interior.
Below the yellow and blue ribbon Chagall has painted a green ribbon, which symbolises the earth and earthly life.
In the left half of the lithograph we see a large candleholder. It has five arms: the number of God’s grace. They are supplied with candles that spread God’s eternal light.
Above the candle flames we see two lions with human heads, a male and a female who incline towards each other. The two lions are connected by one crown. Above them we see hands spread out in blessing. Whenever the High Priest had met God in the Most Holy Place, he would come outside to bless the gathered crowd and confirm the covenant between God and his people. The holy tent of the covenant is rendered as a choepa, the canopy under which the Jewish marriage covenant is contracted. A man and a woman are joined to each other in the place where God unites himself with his people. The curtain around the hands is gathered in the tent’s roof into a pineapple as an image of fruitfulness.
In the middle of the top part of the lithograph we see an enormous sun. This vivid red form draws most of the attention in the representation. The sun symbolises God’s eternal covenant of love with humanity. A star of David is drawn inside it. It did not yet exist in the time of the tabernacle, but Chagall, being Jewish, liked to bring it into his work. This symbol with the two triangles again shows the connection between heaven and earth, the theme that governs this whole work. On the star are painted the twelve precious stones of the twelve tribes of Israel, that were brought before God on the breastplate of the High Priest. They make clear that God’s care is for everybody, no exceptions. Inside the star is written God’s name: JHWH, meaning 'I am' – or rather more actively: 'I shall be there.'
And that is precisely the heart of Bezalel’s work: he creates a meeting place for God and humans. Whoever knows how to capture that into a structure of such enduring power, must be a great artist. Bezalel was the first to make visible the source and aim of artistry in his work. For that reason I consider him the greatest of all artists.
Marc Chagall: Bezalel, 1966, coloured lithograph from the series 'The story of the Exodus.'
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was born in Russia. His art was deeply influenced by his early life in the Russian ghetto of Vitebsk and his Jewish background. His style was influenced by cubism, fauvism and surrealism.
Willem de Vink (Utrecht, 1957) is a Dutch writer, draughtsman, speaker and Pentecostal preacher. https://willemdevink.nl
ArtWay Visual Meditation January 2, 2022