Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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56
JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
tinuity with the past because of its similarity to a
tallit.
This dress
assimilates the oriental origins with the contemporary European
Jewish character. The landscape is typical of Eretz Israel, with
palm trees and a stone house. In this respect Lilien echoes the
nineteenth century romantic view of history as reflected in Dore’s
picture, namely the desire to describe biblical scenes as authenti­
cally as possible. Thus, in Dore’s picture we also find the palm
trees, a Bedouin cloak for Abraham, and cactus bushes represent­
ing the genuine flavor of the Holy Land. (One must admit,
however, that Isaac’s fluttering material looks more Greek than
oriental). Isaac in both pictures is, like the natives of the desert,
bare-footed. Lilien also seems to have been impressed by Dore’s
profile of Isaac.
And yet the two scenes differ: Dore’s father and son are physi­
cally separated. Isaac stands on the slope of the mountain and the
position of his feet indicates his intention to climb up. He is
carrying the wood for the sacrifice on his back. Despite the fact
that Dore does not.depict the sacrifice on the altar, he is preserv­
ing its original significance for Christianity as a prefiguration of
the crucifixion. Here it is associated with the carrying of the Cross
on the Via Dolorosa, on the way to the crucifixion. Dore depicts
the wood with a thorny quality, thus associating it with the crown
of thorns. Abraham looks up in deep emotional distress at Isaac
whose awesome stare and agitated walk betray an awareness that
something unusual is about to happen. Dore, therefore, does not
depict a genre-like scene, but one charged with Christian mean­
ing. Lilien seems to be consciously altering the Christian associa­
tion: the landscape is horizontal and Isaac carries the wood under
his arm. Isaac seems to be completely unaware of the future
events, and is indifferent to Abraham’s kiss. Nevertheless, Lilien
could not avoid a Christian nuance: the shape formed by the
bundle of wood intersecting the figure of Isaac suggests a cross.
L IL IEN AND BEARDSLEY
And yet, how are we to understand the meaning of the kiss,
especially since there is no mention of it in the text? In order to
answer this question, a short detour into another source of influ­
ence is necessary. Lilien was inspired by the English Art Nouveau
artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898). Stylistically, Lilien’s palm
tree framing the picture, but also cut by it, and the suggestive