The Arty Semite

Architects and Artists Building the Jewish State

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
wiki commons
Boris and Bezalel Boris Schatz sits at the entrance of the Bezalel Art School, circa 1920.

The half-century before the declaration of Israel’s statehood was a time of wild artistic ferment. Some of the nuances of the feverish creativity in the realm of architecture are described by two studies from Ashgate Publishing, “Constructing a Sense of Place: Architecture and the Zionist Discourse” edited by Haim Yacobi and “Architecture and Utopia. The Israeli Experiment” by Michael and Bracha Chyutin.

Further confirmation of the rapid innovation, should it be needed, is available in a 2011 work so far only available in Hebrew, “Architecture in Palestine During the British Mandate, 1917-1948”, by Ada Karmi-Melamede and Dan Price, published by the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art. And by another title out in late 2011 from GTA Verlag, “Europe in Palestine: Architects of the Zionist project 1902-1923.” The site-specific innovations occurred from crossing artistic and stylistics genres for inspiration, even looking to unlikely and highly un-biblical sources.

Written by historian Ita Heinze-Greenberg, who has previously published volumes about the German Jewish modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn, “Europe in Palestine” has a wide scope, including the way visual artists aimed at evolving a new synthesis in the Holy Land. This includes the art nouveau prints of Ephraim Moses Lilien, much influenced by the turn-of-the-century British decadent artist Aubrey Beardsley.

Heinze-Greenberg reproduces a Beardsleyesque 1902 illustration by Lilien to a poem by the Yiddish author Morris Rosenfeld in which among a group of male nudes, 19th century versions of erotic Greek vase paintings, appears an unmistakable portrait of Theodor Herzl, his modesty preserved by a flower which blooms in the image’s foreground as fig-leaf.

The Galician-born Lilien, sometimes called the “first Zionist artist,” blended ancient Greek and modernist elements to arrive at a new vocabulary. Others, such as the Lithuanian Jewish artist and sculptor Boris Schatz, who in 1906 founded Jerusalem’s Bezalel School, saw Zionism as a chance to blend his own Jewish identity and creative urges. Blending Eastern and Western motifs, Schatz’s approach earned the patronizing scorn of C. R. Ashbee, then-civic adviser to the British Mandate of Palestine and chairman of the Pro-Jerusalem Society. In a later memoir, Ashbee was condescending about the “happy, breezy, if somewhat pathetic personality of old Professor Schatz” and dismissed Bezalel as a “brilliant failure” in its attempt to derive a “Jewish style, something that should signify the living Zionism in Palestine, was possible.”

Fortunately others were less pessimistic, including multi-talented architect Alexander Baerwald, best remembered for his buildings in Haifa, who was also a gifted cellist who performed in a Berlin string quartet for which Albert Einstein was the second violinist. The Frankfurt-born architect Richard Kauffmann played second fiddle to no one in his ambitious town planning, as Heinze-Greenberg’s narrative also compellingly explains.

Watch a video about Boris Schatz and the Bezalel School.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.