The Illuminated Five Books of Moses

In 2005, I embarked on an artistic and spiritual journey to illuminated the entire Pentateuch and contribute a unique visual interpretation of these ancient texts for all those who hold dear both the written word and the painted image. Each book was carefully researched for its singular role in the whole, inspiring hundreds of original drawings illustrating the stories behind the words. Fifteen years later, this unparalleled undertaking has come together as a singular work of art and a profound tribute to the tradition of millennia.  I extend my hope that this original body of work brings others the delight and inspiration that saw me through this journey. The completed volumes now have a life of their own. They are just beginning their independent voyage not only as objects of art but as contemporary vessels of universal learning for generations to come.

FROM TEXT TO IMAGE– A Self-Portrait in Retrospect

I have been a working artist for the last 45 years.

Over this time, my works seemed to have taken the shape of blocks: one project at a time, comprised of multiple works on a certain theme or topic. I allowed momentum, circumstance, and artistic fancy to govern the timeline of my art, and every project stood on its own– or so I thought.

I had never paused in real-time to contemplate the order of the projects or their inner chronology. Looking back, I see this as a whole, a seamless tapestry that represents the block of my work that led up to the Illuminated Bible.

This is as much a self-portrait as it is a body of work. It spans two decades and culminates with my Illuminated Bible, the illustrated Pentateuch that forms the apex of my 20-year journey through ancient Hebrew texts.

By the time I turned my interest to illuminating biblical texts, I was a long-established artist, devoted to painting landscapes. In the tradition of the nineteenth-century Holy Land painters, I worked outdoors, capturing the blue and olive Mediterranean scenery on canvas in oil paints for collectors and museums worldwide.

Then, twin circumstances converged to change the course of my life and art.

At the turn of the millennium, violence struck Jerusalem and the hills around it became no longer safe for painting on location. I had to withdraw from working in my studio.

It was around that time that I was approached to create for the Jewish Theological Seminary two major murals on biblical themes, one of them depicting the gathering at Mount Sinai. Still inspired by my native region, my art was now permanently affixed to this New York institution.

Working with the biblical theme and texts sparked my fascination with the ancient words and worlds that form the foundation of our modern religions and cultures.

This newfound interest might have waited for a long time for me to act on it. But shortly afterward, my wife Andy was diagnosed with leukemia, and once again, circumstances called upon me to focus on that which is inside. In life and art, the grand-scale landscapes seemed distant, and the fine details took over. I moved my work from the studio to my house and to Andy’s bedside.

My first foray into the ancient Hebrew verses was the Passover Haggadah. It seemed the obvious choice, a natural extension of the Mount Sinai setting, and being a cyclical narrative of literal and metaphoric deliverance, it gained new meaning in my life. After researching the text and art history for inspiration from the Israelites’ contemporaries, I created my first illuminated Hebrew manuscript: the Moriah Passover Haggadah.

A long remission freed me to take on what I thought was a somewhat lighter subject matter, and I undertook the illustration of the Scroll of Esther. The calm turned out to be deceptive, as Andy’s sickness was as cunning as the conspirators of ancient Persia. I created five versions- four commissioned by families in and around New York, and the fifth, titled The Ganze Megillah, is the largest illuminated Scroll of Esther in existence.

In 2005, the illness returned with a vengeance. Andy underwent a bone marrow transplant, and we hoped this would give her new life. As life-and-death moments defined my life and art, I set out to illuminate the book of Genesis, where all life began. I did not know at the time how long this would take me, or where. 15 years and five books later, I reached my destination with the complete Illuminated Bible. This contemporary visual interpretation of the ancient scripture forms a unique combination of art, artifact, canon, ritual, and beauty. Also, this would be the first project I completed without Andy.

This journey has been full of transitions: the shift from outdoors to inner landscapes; the shift from oil paints on canvas to watercolors on archival paper; the shift in scale from landscapes to highly detailed miniature scenes; the shift in the historical timeline, and with it the artistic influence that evolved from Egyptian culture to the wider Mediterranean, Mesopotamian and Persian cultures, as well as Renaissance and contemporary art.

The movement from Text to Image also reflects the process and technique underpinning my work. Each of these projects began with a close study of the texts for not only the narrative itself but for the layers of meaning embedded in and created by, recurrent motifs and words. The ancient and biblical language is inherently concise, its words both deliberate and suggestive. Based on this, I created hundreds of preliminary study drawings before painting what would be the final images.

The Illuminated Bible of course stands on its own in its own right, being by far the most impressive in artistic scope and concept, and of course in universal importance. However, the works that preceded it, and the context in which they were conceived and created, are in truth part and parcel of the work that crowned this journey.

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