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Archive for the ‘symbols’ Category

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Detail of Chagall’s America Windows

Marc Zakharovich Chagall (born July 1887, Belarus; died March 1985, France), a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin, was an early modernist. We’ve come across his work before (in Paris and in Zurich), and love his bold use of colors in glass, and his “pictures within pictures.” For us, probably the most famous is his America Windows in Chicago at the Art Institute.

Marc Chagall’s America Windows is one of the most loved treasures in the Art Institute’s collection—they are one of our favorites too, although it’s hard to pick favorites in this museum so chock-a-block with masterpieces! They made their debut at the Art Institute in May 1977 and were made more famous less than ten years later when they appeared in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Bit of Background:

Chagall’s Windows were not on show for quite a while as they were undergoing

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Detail of America Windows

conservation treatment and archival research. But, they returned in 2010 to a new location as the stunning centerpiece of a new presentation on Chicago’s other modern public art at the east end of the museum’s Arthur Rubloff building (as you go down to the café). Here we can see models and maquettes of some of the important large pieces in the story of Chicago’s modern public art.

It’s interesting that the history of America Windows is interwoven with the history of Chicago and its rich tradition of public art, which continues strongly today.

The roots of this can be traced to 1967, the year Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled. It was Chicago’s first major installation of the new styles of 20th century modern art (see my post on this here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/chicago-creativity-on-the-streets/ ). It initially inspired controversy, but soon started a cultural resurgence fueled by public and private investment in the arts. One of these included Mark Chagall’s mosaic The Four Seasons installed outside Chase Tower in 1974, which in turn inspired America Windows.

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Another detail from America Windows

Because the city was so enthusiastic about his work and the Art Institute gave him great support, Chagall offered to create a set of stained-glass windows for the museum. During the next three years plans were clarified, and Chagall decided that the windows would commemorate America’s bicentennial.

The resulting six-panel work, with three main themes, celebrates the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, giving details of the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance. They paint a romantic picture of the American Dream, the idea that we can achieve anything we want in this country. Because Chagall admired Chicago and its strong commitment to public art during the 1960s and 1970s, he chose to dedicate the work to the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, a great supporter of public art projects (he died December 1976). The windows were presented with great fanfare at a formal unveiling, hosted by the Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute, on May 15, 1977.

The Windows Today:

The Windows are in a superb location now, as they glow softly from the natural light coming in behind them. The colors and the details are beautiful, a story of different religions, arts and parts of American life all intertwined.

The first panel shows the city’s rich history as a hub for rhythm and blues. Note people playing instruments, plus floating guitars and fiddles, all in glowing blue panes. The windows are done cathedral-style, a perfect way to show the spirituality of Blues music.

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First panel

The second panel depicts the unity and peace within the city’s many neighborhoods. Note the giant dove, a symbol of peace. This panel is also a prayer for the city. When Mayor Richard J. Daley died in December1976, many people were in mourning. The figure on the left of the pane lights a candle in remembrance of the late, great mayor.

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Second panel

Panel three shows the importance of religious freedom in the USA. Note the immigrants of different backgrounds, an angel-like figure, a menorah, and rose window. Chagall was Jewish but worked extensively with cathedral windows and was comfortable referring to Christianity and Judaism. It’s also important, as most American citizens have come from a family of immigrants. Something the current Administration needs to take heed of!!

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Panel 3

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Opera Garnier is a gorgeous setting for Chagall’s ceiling

Another Chagall masterpiece we’ve seen and photographed is in Paris at the neo-Baroque Opera Garnier; the magnificent ceiling in the main auditorium. It was unveiled in 1964. It looks beautiful there, even though his design is way more modern that the setting it is in. Somehow, we think the older (and very sumptuous and ornate) and the new meld very well and apparently the public love it today. Chagall divided the ceiling into color zones that he filled with landscapes and figures commemorating the composers, actors and dancers of opera and ballet.

 

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Angels on pillars, angels on the ceiling

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Chagall ceiling at Opera Garnier

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Chagall at Fraumunster Church Zurich–first 4 window-panels of 5

We also saw some of Chagall’s work in the heart of old Zurich at the Fraumunster Church, built on the remains of an abbey built in 853. The choir of the abbey has 5 large stained-glass windows designed by Chagall and installed in 1970. They all depict a Christian story. Stunning.

The first panel in red/orange depicts Elijah’s

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Last 4 window-panels

ascent to heaven. The second panel in blue shows Jacob’s combat and dreams of heaven. The middle (third) panel in green depicts various scenes from Christ’s life. The fourth panel in yellow shows Zion with an angel trumpeting the end of the world. The last (fifth) panel in blue depicts Law, with Moses looking down on the suffering of the people.

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Middle 3 window-panels

We look forward to tracking down more of Chagall’s work in the future. But, in the meantime, we are happy that Chicago and its history of public art can boast one of his major works.

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International Stereotypes of a Different Kind

The image that people have of a certain country or culture is often very stereotypical, and many people have ideas about a place even if they have never been there.

We found this really interesting T-shirt in Ljubljana, Slovenia. One of Slovenia’s tourist marketing tools is using the word “love” embedded in the country’s name. This T-shirt design has taken the heart and used it to create an image for the other countries depicted on it. A very clever idea.

Neither South Africa nor Zimbabwe is there, but Africa in general is, and that heart is probably fairly accurate for the indigenous people. The USA has a cowboy—what do you think of that?

Look at the other countries—we thought many were actually quite true at capturing what people imagine when they think of that country. For example, a koala for Australia, a sheep for New Zealand, a panda for China, or a bull for Spain. Some are not quite so obvious (to me anyway).

Is your country there? What do you think?

Tshirt

 

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hamsa

A hamsa

The Hamsa and the Evil Eye

I’ve just returned from St Louis where I was for 6 weeks to help my daughter with a new baby. While there I remembered that we had bought her a hamsa from a shop in Old Jaffa (www.adinaplastelina.com ) while we were in Israel last year. It’s very pretty—a pendant on a ribbon—and I started reading up more on what its significance is.

These days, with so much strife and discord around the world, especially in the Middle East, it seems to me that it would be a really good thing for people to find similarities between groups, rather than differences. It seems the hamsa could be one such agreement.

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Hamsa pendant

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Typical Turkish-style “Evil Eye”

According to the leaflet that came with my daughter’s hamsa: “Known in Islamic societies as the Hand of Fatima, and in Jewish lore as the Hand of Miriam, the hamsa serves as an ancient talismanic way of averting the evil eye or, more generally, of providing a “protecting hand” or “Hand of God”. Some sources link the significance of the five fingers to the five books of the Torah, or to the five pillars of Islam. In recent years some activists for Middle East peace have chosen to wear a hamsa as a symbol of the similarities of origins and tradition between the Islamic and Jewish faiths.”

This idea of protection from “the evil eye” is common in many countries in the Middle East, especially in Turkey and countries where the Ottoman Empire ruled, such as Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. The concept is the same—wearing, or having, some talisman that will protect against bad things, or ward off evil—but the actual amulet is very different. The typical Turkish one is a flattish bright blue circular bead with light blue and white inner circles and a darker blue center, like an ‘eye’. They are made into jewelry, or into beads that hang in cars, over doorways etc. People have them in kitchens, on baby strollers, on motorbikes etc. We have bought quite a number over the years, in Turkey and more recently in Bosnia.

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This kitchen is protected by a Mexican folk skull and a Turkish evil eye

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This kitchen also has an evil eye

Here’s a short discussion about the Turkish evil eye:

http://www.turkeytravelcentre.com/blog/the-blue-evil-eye-in-turkey/

For a more extensive history and meaning of the evil eye, see here:

http://www.jewishgiftplace.com/What-is-the-Evil-Eye.html

How can we all rally, and have some kind of hamsa, or evil eye, or other protection from the evil in this world? A symbol that would bind people together? I’m just being idealistic, I know, but it doesn’t hurt to dream!

 

 

 

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