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Body Image

An art historian tackles the thorny matter of Jews and figurative painting

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Serge Strosberg, Tenderness, 2007(Collection of the artist. All images are from The Human Figure and Jewish Culture (Abbeville Press Publishers, 2009).)

  “Thou shalt not make graven images.” Thus reads the second commandment, which has been widely interpreted by Jews to mean that they are forbidden from depicting the human body. Yet, according to art historian Eliane Strosberg, during the 20th century Jewish artists in Europe and the United States defied that prohibition and almost exclusively painted and sculpted likenesses of themselves and of people they knew. They did so even while non-Jewish peers were jumping into Cubism, Expressionism, Fauvism, and other avant-garde genres. In a new book, The Human Figure and Jewish Culture, Strosberg explores the reasons why these Jewish artists set themselves apart.

Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry speaks with Strosberg about Chaim Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani, Lucien Freud, and others, about renderings of the body in ancient Jewish art, and about the mother as muse.

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what a treat – to see not only the artwork
of these wonderful jewish artists in reproduction
but to listen to the voice of the art historian’s
thank you.

Richard says:

I think the prohibition on graven images is often misunderstood. Surely it relates to the prohibition of making images of G-d e.g. like the Golden Calf.

amazing portraits of jewish women from ever and ever!

Miroslav says:

Beautiful motive and painting! Bravo!

Wow, this is one of the main core issues of my lifetime in the visual arts! I have found that Jews are nervous about art in general and with figures especially, even when the art is about Jewish subject matter. I believe empathy is the most important thing in drawing or painting fellow human beings.
Thank you for writing and assembling this book. I only wish you know and might have imcluded examples of my figurative art.
Sigmund Abeles


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Body Image

An art historian tackles the thorny matter of Jews and figurative painting

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