Page 185 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

Basic HTML Version

R E C E N T L I T E R A T U R E ON J E W I S H
A R T : A C R I T I C A L A P P R A I S A L
B y J
o s e p h
G
u t m a n n
I
n
t h e
la s t
t e n
y ea r s
,
a number of books have appeared which
bear witness to a growing interest in the role the arts have
played in Jewish life and to the fact that Jewish art has come
at last to be taken seriously by scholars. Inevitably, many o f the
books written on Jewish art try to come to grips with two major
problems: 1. Is there a Jewish Art? 2. How is it possible for
Jews to have had any art in view of the restraints imposed by the
so-called Second Commandment?
Writers affirming the existence of Jewish art often do so by
defining it either in ethnic, iconographic or functional terms
The ethnic definition is represented by Cecil Roth in
Jew ish
A r t: A n I l lu s tr a te d H is to r y
(New York, McGraw-Hill, 1961):
What one terms “English art” is in fact simply the sum of
the artistic productions of persons, however influenced, born
or active in England, so that it is legitimate to include in
the category of “Jewish art” the artistic productions of per-
sons, however influenced, professing the Jewish religion or
of Jewish stock.
For such a definition to be valid, we would have to be able to
discern in Jewish art common stylistic traits over a significant
period of time, traits which would allow us to speak of Jewish
art in the same way that we can speak of English Romanesque
or English Gothic art. One finds, however, no unique stylistic
trends in Jewish art emerging over any period of time; rather
we find refracted at any specific period in the art employed by
Jews, the dominant styles of the particular country in which
Jews resided. For example, a Hebrew manuscript illum inated in
13th-century England would employ English Gothic art, or
a synagogue in 15th-century Italy would be built in the prevail-
ing Italian Renaissance style of that period. Th e art of the Jews
does not manifest the ethnic characteristics we find, for instance,
in many periods o f English art, simply because Jews have for
most of their history not been a separate, independent entity.
165