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Visual History of Israel (Signed)
FINE ART PRINTS. New York, 1948. First edition lithograph of 4000 years of Jewish history. From the Visual History of Nations series.
Four thousand years of Jewish history come to life in Arthur Szyk’s Visual History of Israel, completed in 1948, the year of Statehood, and printed in 1949. The biblical King David (top left) and his son King Solomon (top right), who is shown holding the “Song of Songs,” flank three famous biblical personages: the warrior Hur, Moses the deliverer, and Moses’ brother and high priest Aaron.
The blue Star of David dominates the composition, with the “Crown of the Good Name” directly above and Hillel’s dictum “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” between. The clusters of grapes, symbolizing the historic bounty and productivity of the land, refer to the large grapes Joshua and Caleb brought back after a reconnaissance mission into the Land of Israel prior to Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. The phrase “The time of our freedom” also appears with the Star, referring to the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from Egypt.
Bar Kochba sits to the left of the Star. He led a temporarily successful revolt against the Romans 65 years after they had destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. His shield displays the Star of David, which symbolizes God’s security and strength. The prophet Ezekiel sits to the right. He foretold the return of the Jews to their Homeland after their 70 years of captivity in Babylon.
The two tablets containing the Ten Commandments anchor the lower section, flanked on the right by the pioneer builder (chalutz) and on the left by the soldier. The latter have been essential to the growth and security of Israel, especially since 1948. Beside the soldier are oranges, an important export. These pair with the grapes on the opposite side as a contemporary expression of Israel’s abundant produce. Two fierce Lions of Judah sit poised at both sides of the base of the Decalogue.
The Hebrew script both above and below Bar Kochba and Ezekiel proclaims: “Praise be You God, our God, King of the Universe, who had kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to commemorate this time.” This prayer for newness and celebration refers to the blessing of the creation of the new State of Israel.
Twelve yellow symbols scattered throughout the illustration’s borders depict the historic organization of Israel into twelve tribes. Although separate, together they unify the composition as the tribes of Israel unified the heart of their nation long ago.
First edition lithograph [Visual History of Nations series]. New York, 1948. Publisher: K. Bileski; Printer: Herman Jaffe (of the Metropolitan Museum, NY). SIGNED by Arthur Szyk. Image measures 7⅞ inches x 6½ inches. Sheet measures 11½ inches x 9⅞ inches. Fine condition.
Note: The left margin of this lithograph is wider than the right. All lithographs in the Visual History of Nations series were printed in this fashion, as they were commissioned as frontispieces for bound stamp albums. A wider margin on the edge closest to the binding allows both margins to appear equal when matted.
Publishing History: Arthur Szyk's Visual History of Nations series consists of highly illuminated and brilliantly designed visual histories of individual founding and member countries of the United Nations. This series of images was commissioned in 1945 by Canadian philatelist and entrepreneur Kasimir Bileski and originally referred to as The United Nations Series. Each print was created as an exquisite frontispiece and title page for a unique international stamp album. All images reflect the artistic genius of the 20th century’s greatest miniaturist illuminator and painter.
Of the approximately 60 colorful and highly detailed images commissioned by Bileski, only nine countries were completed (plus the History of Flight) and printed prior to Szyk's sudden death in 1951.
Identification of the Graphics and Symbols of The Visual History of Israel (see below for key):
2. Aaron, the High Priest, brother of Moses
3. The warrior Hur
4. The Ten Commandments
5. King David
6. King Solomon
7. “The Crown of a Good Name”
8. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me” (a quotation from Hillel, the sage)
9. The warrior Bar-Kochba, who led the revolt against Rome (ca. 135 C.E.)
10. The prophet Ezekiel, foretold the return to the Holy Land while in Babyloninan exile
11. The Magen David, the Star of David
12. “The Time of Our Freedom”
13. An Israeli soldier
14. An Israeli pioneer and builder, “chalutz”
15. The Hebrew prayer, Shehecheyanu, the prayer for newness and celebration, here a reference to the blessing of the creation of the new State of Israel in 1948 [(“Praised be You, God, our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to commemorate this time.”]