In his forward to this special collection, Professor Bezalel Narkiss, of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, explains that Jewish papercuts represent a unique art form, created by mostly anonymous folk artists. At first impression they resemble naive painting or a child's art. But one quickly realizes the complexity of the designs, and the knowledge involved in their composition. Narkiss hopes that Giza Frankel's celebration of this rare and disappearing art form will not only introduce it to the uninitiated and help researchers, but also inspire contemporary artists to revive and continue this rich tradition.
The Jews became familiar with papercuts in Germany of the 17th century, where they were known as "Scherenschnitt" (scissor-runs). Austrian monks and nuns went on to create "Spitzenbilder", splendid "lace-pictures" of cut paper and the art was also known in Holland by the 18th century. But Jewish merchants probably met this form much earlier, in the 14th century, from travels to the Far East. Papercuts became most popular in the 19th century and into the early 20th. They were made exclusively by men: pupils in heder, yeshiva students, teachers (melamedim) and their assistants. Sometimes old men made papercuts in their spare time. Below are samples of some of the beautiful, full-color reproductions that appear in the hardcover book
The MIZRACH (Hebrew for "East") papercut above is rich in motifs from the animal world: pairs of eagles, deer, elephants, squirrels, roosters, birds, and lions. All are formed in the traditional style of Polish Jewish folk art of the 19th century. Similar motifs decorated the walls and ceilings of wooden synagogues in Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its dimensions are 43x34 centimeters, and it is at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. For a larger image, click here.
The 19th century SHIVITI above, from Galicia in Poland, is a particularly imaginative and unusual papercut. Of the four pairs of lions, one has human faces. The central geometric motif is very delicate and elaborate. Other motifs include the double0headed eagle, deer, and a pair of cocks. The text "I have set the Lord always before me" (Psalms 16:8) is distributed among the four round medallions. There is an interesting contrast between the tightly controlled, geometric pattern of most of the papercut, and a much freer, almost abstract painting on the black backgrounf, upper part of the sides.Its dimensions are 56.5x44 centimeters, and it is at the Einhorn collection in Tel-Aviv. For a larger image, click here.
This MENORAH (Hebrew for "Lamp") is from late 19th century or early 20th century Morocco. Flanked by a pair of blessing hands, with a pair of fish above, the text is from the psalms. IT is the same text that appears in the "Shir Ha'ma'a lot" of Eastern Europe. Dimensions are 60x40 centimeters, and it is at The Wolfson Jewish Art Museum, at Solomon Hall in Jerusalem. For a larger image, click here.
This MIZRACH - SHIVITI is an early American papercut, well before the great wave of Jewish immigration (made in the U.S.A. in 1861; currently at The Skirball Museum, Hebrew Union College, in Los Angeles). Its dimensions are 25x18.5 centimeters, and the style is interesting because of the combination of precise geometric motifs with curved, floral ones. The upper frame contains a gate, presumably that of the Temple in Jerusalem. It carries the inscriptions: "This is the gate to God", and above it, in two separate medallions, "I have set the Lord always before me." The gate is flanked by two slender towers, with a flag on each, and inside the flags, there are small images of keys. At the base of the large Menorah, there are inscriptions, in Hebrew and in English, giving the name of the artist: Naphtali, son of Rabbi Moshe Hacohen (in Hebrew), and Phillip Cohen (in English). For a larger image, click here.
This SHEVUOSL from Poland illustrates, in its white center, the Tables of the Law, with the inscription "This Shevuoth Holiday", the Shield of David, and a menorah. These are surrounded by colored images of two columns, another menorah, lions, deer, squirrels (unusual), birds, and floral motifs within a geometric frame. The three letters inside the Shield of David are the initials of "Time (of the) Giving (of the) Torah". For a larger image, click here.
MORE IMAGES TO COMEThe ISBN number of Giza Frankel's The Art of the Jewish Papercut is 965-7141-05-2. You can request it at any bookstore. To order directly from the Israeli publisher, please click here, if your browser can view Hebrew. You can also email your request directly to them, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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