Page 71 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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HEYD / ISAAC ’S SACRIFICE
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figures fill almost the entire picture space: Abraham appears as a
very dominant character, a cosmic power, while Isaac resembles a
trapped animal, petrified with fright. A clear line of development
in the conception of Pann’s four versions of the subject discussed
here can be traced. It starts from an emphasis on the episode (the
scene taking place on a high altar, the clearly delineated figures,
the distinction between background and foreground); then, in
the second picture, the altar is lowered; and in the last two scenes
Isaac is laid on the ground. In the later versions it seems as if
Abraham and Isaac encompass the whole space between heaven
and earth; in the last picture Abraham’s cloak even looks like a
mountain ridge. Both figures become in the last stage forces of
nature — their bodies integrated with, and indeed replacing, the
background.
The scenes also tend to become more and more intense and
emotionally charged, in response to the impact on the artist of
historical events and his own experiences. Pann’s art expressed
the progression of events in modern Jewish history. The pogroms
in Russia, which were depicted in his album
The Tear J u g ,
are the
source of inspiration for the earlier version of the
Sacrifice.
The
Sacrifice
symbolized for Pann the constant sacrifice of the Jewish
people on the altar of their faith. The 1942 picture was definitely
inspired by the events of the Holocaust in which Pann lost part of
his family.5This correlates with the revival of the theme of Isaac’s
Sacrifice in modern Hebrew literature, as exemplified by Uri Zvi
Greenberg’s poetry. The last picture is tragically connected with
Pann’s personal life: it commemorates the death of his son Eldad,
who fell in the 1948 War of Independence. The theme of the
Sacrifice of Isaac is dominant in the literature of the Palmach
generation, and is expressive of the times when fathers were
sending off their sons to die for their cause. Thus, Yigal Mossin-
sohn, in his play
Be-Arvot ha-Negev
(In the Plains of the Negev,
1949), writes: “We are a cruel generation, which slaughters its
young sons while the old people continue to live. Too many sons
have died in this war — and less parents.”6These events explain
the different portrayals in the two later paintings. In both, Abra­
ham no longer stares outward, hiding Isaac’s face as earlier, but
turns towards his son, clearly kissing him in the 1942 version. In
5 Information supplied by the artist’s son, Mr. Itiel Pann, for whose help I am
grateful.
6 Yigal Mossinsohn,
Be-Arvot ha-Negev,
Tel-Aviv, 1939, p. 101.