Using the medium of stained glass enables the painter to create intense and fresh colors. “When Matisse dies”, Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.” It was not until 1956, when Chagall was nearly 70 years of age, that he began to design stained-glass windows, first for the church at Assy and then for the Metz Cathedral. One of Chagall’s major contributions to art has been his work with stained glass.
Chagall collaborated with Charles Marq of Atelier Simon in Rheims, France; together they worked on the project, during which time Marq developed a special process for applying color to the glass. This allowed Chagall to use as many as three colors on a single pane, rather than being confined to the traditional technique of separating each colored pane by a lead strip.
French art historian Leymarie writes that in order to illuminate the synagogue at Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem both spiritually and physically Chagall decided that the twelve windows, representing the twelve tribes of Israel as blessed by Jacob and Moses in the verses which conclude Genesis and Deuteronomy, were to be filled with stained glass. This is very traditional, the Hurva synagogue had 12 windows with stained glass for the twelve tribes around the dome and the ceiling of the Chabad synagogue was decorated with illustrations of the twelve tribes. Chagall envisaged the windows as “jewels of translucent fire”. Each of the twelve windows is approximately 3.35×2.4 meters, much larger than anything he had done before. They are probably Chagall’s greatest work in the field of stained glass.
Leymarie goes on to describe the spiritual and physical significance of the windows:
The essence of the Jerusalem Windows lies in color, in Chagall’s magical ability to animate material and transform it into light. Words do not have the power to describe Chagall’s color, its spirituality, its singing quality, its dazzling luminosity…
At the dedication ceremony in 1962, Chagall described his personal feelings about the windows:
For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light. To read the Bible is to perceive a certain light, and the window has to make this obvious through its simplicity and grace… The thoughts have nested in me for many years, since the time when my feet walked on the Holy Land…
You probably notice that there are no photographs of the Chagall Windows accompanying this post. I contacted Hadassah for permission to photograph and was told that I would have to contact an agency in Paris, Société des Auteurs dans les Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, that handles such requests. The ADAGP wants me to pay €7 per image per month, which comes to €84 per year royalties to display one of my photographs on my website. In a quick search for “Chagall Windows” on Google I found 42,700 images that are already online (either ADAGP is bringing in more than €3.5 million per year or these images are not authorized, I’ll let you guess). I suggest that you check some of these images to get some appreciation for Chagall’s stained glass work.
What do Hadassah Ein Karem and Hebrew University Givat Ram have in common? In 1948 the Hadassah medical center and campus of Hebrew University on Mount Scopus built in 1925 were cut off from Israeli held western Jerusalem. For 19 years, a convoy travelled up to Scopus every 2 weeks under Red Cross auspices to exchange people and bring supplies. Consequently, these two institutions are a second hospital and university campus.