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Boris Schatz (1866–1932)

Postcard
Published by Y[aakov] Ben-Dov (1882–1968)
Jerusalem, 1920s

Judaica Collection of Chaim and Naomi Steinberger, New York
Boris (Zalman Dov Baruch) Schatz was born to a traditional Jewish family in a small village near Kovno, Lithuania, and as a young man pursued religious studies in Vilna. It was there that Schatz first engaged with the two ideals that would permanently impact his life: art and Zionism. Dividing his days between yeshiva and art school, Schatz also joined a local Zionist group. He continued his art studies in Warsaw and Paris, enjoying a moderate level of artistic success as a sculptor.

In 1895, at the invitation of the King of Bulgaria, Schatz relocated to Sofia, where he taught at the Art Academy and became enmeshed in the project to create a national Bulgarian artistic identity. Schatz left Bulgaria in 1903 after his wife abandoned him for one of his students. That same year, the Kishinev pogrom roiled the entire Jewish world and pushed many into a strong embrace of Zionist ideology. In Schatz, it rekindled a Jewish consciousness that was reflected in his artistic production, now greatly expanded by the use of Jewish themes and characters.

Mattathias Sculpture (1894)

Though Schatz's early work touched on a variety of artistic subjects, he later began to focus more on Jewish themes. In 1894, he sculpted the figure of Mattathias, his most renowned work of art. It proudly depicts the aged priest and forebear of the Maccabee dynasty as a conqueror of oppression rather than its victim. The original sculpture no longer exists, but due to the great popularity it enjoyed, the work has been preserved in photographs and was widely copied.
Boris Schatz and Friends beside Plaster Model of Mattathias Sculpture
Ca. 1893

Ex Libris of Boris Schatz

To underscore the notion that the artists of the new Bezalel School were the spiritual and artistic heirs of Bezalel ben Uri, the emblem chosen for the school was the Ark of the Covenant, the greatest accomplishment of the biblical artist. The design was the work of the well-respected Zionist artist E. M. Lilien, who was also one of the two teachers of art who accompanied Schatz to Palestine in 1906. Lilien created the design while still in Berlin, where he was a member of the Bezalel Society that oversaw the foundation of the school.

The emblem appeared on the school's flag, signpost, and stationery, as well as on Boris Schatz's personal ex libris. In the bookplate, Lilien augmented the image of the Ark by adding, in the foreground, the striding figure of a bearded man bearing worker's tools, Bezalel ben Uri himself. The facial features of the biblical artisan however, were those of Schatz. The transparent association between the first Jewish artist who made the shrine for the Israelites in the desert and the modern Jewish artist who established the art school was clear, and, by Lilien's own testimony, intentional.
E. M. Lilien (1874–1925)
Printed ink and paper
Berlin, 1905

Collection of Ira and Brigitte Rezak