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Chagall Window in French Cathedral Broken by Vandals
ISJM, August 27, 2008

Part of a stained glass window designed by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) in the cathedral of Metz, was damaged by vandals on August 13, 2008.

The French Ministry of Culture announced that a 24 by 16 inch (60-by-40-centimeter) hole was smashed into the lower left corner of one of Chagall's 1963 windows, which depicts Adam and Eve. The damage was apparently part of a robbery in which some items were stolen from the church. Shards of glass from the broken window were collected and authorities believe it can be repaired.

In all, there are 19 Chagall stained glass windows in the cathedral, created and installed between 1958 and 1968.

A law passed earlier this summer in France makes the intentional damage to a historic building or cultural treasure a crime subject to as much as seven years in prison and a €100,000 ($150,000) fine.

Chagall came to the art of stained glass late in life, but his colorful Biblical scenes became instantly popular among Jewish and Christian religious leaders and congregations. In the 1950s and 1960s he received many commissions for stained glass windows. His best known stained glass work, however, is probably his Tribes of Israel windows created in 1960-62 for the synagogue at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem (his only such synagogue commission). For a listing of other places around the world – mostly churches - with Chagall's stained glass, click here.

Most of Chagall's stained glass imagery derives from the hundreds of drawings, etching, watercolors and paintings he did of Biblical scenes beginning in the 1930s, when he began work on etching for an illustrated Bible to be produced by famed Parisian artist dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard (A large selection of these works can be viewed on line at the website of the Spaightwood Galleries of Upton Massachusetts). Chagall also donated a collection of work of biblical themes to the French nation, which form the core of the museum, Le Message Biblique de Marc Chagall to France in Nice.

Increasingly, in his later years, biblical imagery replaced the descriptive, fantastic, nostalgic, evocative and symbolic imagery that marked so much of Chagall's great painting of the early decades of the 20th century. Still, for Chagall his part life in Vitebsk and the images, stories, symbols and colors it evoked was not divorced from his Biblically-inspired works. On the occasion of the dedication of the Jerusalem windows, Chagall made these remarks:

How is it that the air and earth of Vitebsk, my birthplace, and of thousands of years of exile, find themselves mingled in the air and earth of Jerusalem.

How could I have thought that not only my hands with their colors would direct me in their work, but that the poor hands of my parents and of others and still others with their mute lips and their closed eyes, who gathered and whispered behind me, would direct me as if they also wished to take part in my life?

I feel too, as though the tragic and heroic resistance movements, in the ghettos, and your war here in this country, are blended in my flowers and beasts and my fiery colors. . . .

The more our age refuses to see the full face of the universe and restricts itself to the sight of a tiny fraction of its skin, the more anxious I become when I consider the universe in its eternal rhythm, and the more I wish to oppose the general current.

Do I speak this because with the advance of life, the outlines surrounding us becomes clearer and the horizon appears in a more tragic glow?

I feel as if colors and lines flow like tears from my eyes, though I do not weep. And do not think that I speak like this from weakness—on the contrary, as I advance in years the more certain I am of what I want, and the more certain I am of what I say.

I know that the path of our life is eternal and short, and while still in my mother's womb I learned to travel this path with love rather than with hate.

These thoughts occurred to me many years ago when I first stepped on biblical ground preparing to create etchings for the Bible [1931]. And they emboldened me to bring my modest gift to the Jewish people which always dreamed of biblical love, of friendship and peace among all peoples; to that people which lived here thousands of years ago, among other Semitic peoples.

My hope is that I hereby extend my hand to seekers of culture, to poets and to artists among the neighboring peoples. . . .

I saw the hills of Sodom and the Negev, out of whose defiles appear the shadows of our prophets in their yellowish garments, the color of dry bread. I heard their ancient words. . . . Have they not truly and justly shown in their words how to behave on this earth and by what ideal to live?

-- Marc Chagall, "Remarks at the dedication of the Jerusalem Windows" (1962)

Click here to access a complete catalogue raisonne of Chagall's graphic work (access fee required).

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