Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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Book, with their virtues and vices, loves and hatreds, stories
of tragedy and humour, poetry and prose. I wished to
illustrate the Bible biblically, in a Jewish manner.3
Pann expresses here his need to assert himself as a Jewish artist
and to create an authentic Jewish version of biblical illustrations.
The “Jewish manner” is conceived by Pann as the depiction of
human rather than ideal portrayals of biblical heroes. How does
he interpret the theme of the Sacrifice of Isaac? Pann chose to
illustrate the moment of “And Abraham bound his son Isaac and
laid him on the altar, on top of the wood” (Gen. 22:9), that is to say
Pann picked a more traditional aspect of the story, though again
not the most common one. The depiction is amazing: we can find
neither the traditional ram, nor God’s angel. Two manneristically
elongated figures, who create almost a right angle, are set into a
weird atmosphere. Abraham looks like an archaic figure, his body
literally formed by the long beard and pointed oriental turban
that frames a face in which the most dominant feature are the
eyes. Abraham looks transfixed, as if spellbound or hypnotized.
There is an element of the grotesque in his portrayal, especially in
the exaggeration of his gaze.
If Abraham’s pose is unusual, Isaac’s is no less astonishing. He
is laid on shrouds, tied up, his head facing his father so that we see
it only from the back. It is hard to ignore the fact that Isaac
appears to be dead. This will become more evident when Isaac is
compared to his counterpart in Pann’s previous version of this
scene (fig. 5). There Isaac is placed on the raised altar, his feet
raised and his body twisted — life-like signs which are completely
lacking in the limp body of the later version. There is also more of
a distance between father and son in the early version. Pann’s
source of inspiration for his lithograph was undoubtedly a
P ieta ,
the Christian theme of Mary’s lamentation over her dead son.
Again Pann, just as Lilien before him, cannot avoid using a
previous Christian formula while creating “Jewish” art. However,
how are we to understand the significance of his use of
th e Pieta:
Pann saying that Isaac is already dead? Or is he hinting that he
soon will be?4 The scene creates an ambivalent atmosphere; the
3 Pann,
The Bible,
p. 2.
4 Although Pann was the son of the head o f a Yeshivah, it is not clear whether he
knew the Jewish tradition according to which Isaac is actually killed, for which
see Shalom Spiegel,
The Last Trial,
Jewish Publication Society of America,
Philadelphia, 1967.