September 14- January 14, 2004
TRADITION REFLECTED: The Hebrew Bible in American Stained Glass
In cooperation with The Willet Stained Glass Studios and Rambusch Studios
Program: Jean Farnsworth, Noted stained glass expert spoke Over the past 100 years both The Willet Studio and Rambusch Studios have created stained glass for many thousands of buildings, most of them religious. Recurrent themes in many of these fine glass treasures, whether in churches or synagogues, are often drawn from the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. Among these are the windows of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, home of the Temple Judea Museum.
The Jewish people are known as "The People of the Book." The book referred to is the Hebrew Bible, which is divided into three main sections: Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketubim (Writings.) These texts have been passed from generation to generation through thousands of years purely as written words. There are no illustrated Torah scrolls. Only the Megillat Esther (The Esther Scroll of Purim) is illustrated, because nowhere in the Purim story does the name of God appear. Jewish tradition forbids the appearance of illustrations in sacred scrolls.
However, biblical language is exceedingly beautiful and evocative. Many passages are so poetic that they have become an integral part of the world's literary heritage and have provided inspiration for artists for centuries. Especially through the visual arts, intangible word pictures have become tangible and have entered our visual lexicon. Just the mention of Adam and Eve; the Garden of Eden; Moses with THE TEN COMMANDMENTS; the parting of the Red Sea; and David and Goliath, to name only a few, immediately conjures up familiar images made famous by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Donatello and so many others.
Michelangelo, above all, is renowned for masterworks of public art. To name only three, his frescos for the Sistine Chapel and his sculptures of Moses and David tell powerful stories of the bible for all to see. While they are the personal creation of an artist (and at times may even misrepresent original texts) they have an important public purpose. They were all created for public spaces to serve to make the stories of the Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament"to the Christian world) real.
Historically, the tools of religious art have most often been associated with the architecture of the church. As synagogue architecture developed after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, attention centered, not on the importance of the architecture of the space, but, rather, on the presence of the sacred scrolls and the prayer quorum (the minyan) within the space.
From the beginning, church architecture incorporated art in order to make the religious experience accessible to those who may not have been able to read from sacred texts. As architectural technology progressed so did artistic invention. Soaring ribbed vaults allowed Gothic cathedrals to become hospitable hosts to stunningly creative and impressive stained glass windows. The heritage of those windows is reflected in this exhibition.
Today the architecture of both synagogues and churches is considered important to the expression of religious ideas and ideals. Stained glass continues to be integral to the purpose. As both the Christian and Jewish religions look to the Jewish Bible, or Old Testament, as a primary source, stories from those ancient, sacred scrolls continue to inspire artists, whether Christian or Jewish.
This exhibition explores how that one source has enriched two religions through an exquisite art form, the stained glass window.
Rita Rosen Poley
Temple Judea Museum