THE JACOB FAMILY IN PICTURES

The Ancestors Families Series, part III of 4 – fine art essay by Inna Rogatchi

Fine Art Analysis by Inna Rogatchi (C)

First published in The Times of Israel, January 2021. 

Artistic View: An Accord of Four Types of Spiritual Light

The Ancestors Family series

Michael Rogatchi Contemporary Biblical Art

 As central as the Jacob family is in Jewish spiritual life and narrative, as it is in Michael Rogatchi’s series of his contemporary Biblical art works known as Forefathers project.

In the case of Jacob and his family, the artist sees it in two ways: as continuation of the line of the Patriarchs, of which Jacob was the last one; and as of fundamental beginning of the Jewish nation. “We all are children of Jacob”, – Michael says often. 

What is interesting is that Michael’s paintings on the Jacob family created in different periods of time during a six years period are all united by the dominating expression in them, light. According to the core of all portrayed characters, that light in Michael’s paintings is different. It represents four different types of spiritual light. 

Jacob: the Light of Faith

Reflecting the dual essence of Jacob, as the last of the Patriarchs and the pregenitor of the Jewish people, his Jacob on well-known Jacob portrait ( 2004) is a reflective and thoughtful man as if observing his difficult, turbulent life from a distance of time. 

Michael’s own explanation is telling about the interconnection between his artwork and his role model of a Jewish man with a deep precision: “All the way through, the life of Jacob was a chain of miseries, misfortunes and trials. It seems to me that it was the route chosen intentionally by the Creator, to test him. For Jacob was destined to become the Forefather of the entire Jewish people when they became a nation. The painting reflects this enormously difficult journey which Jacob was able to make because of his unconditional belief. In the painting,  I wanted to depict the storm which he had survived. I also wanted to show the most difficult, significant moments of his life; the moments which are often seen by a person as if in front of their eyes. That storm is made of such moments that ‘encapsulate’ Jacob as a character. The culmination of that storm in my work is Jacob’s struggle with the angle when he did realise his mission. And this is the key for the painting, as well” ( Michael Rogatchi ©, Forefathers. 2011).

Michael Rogatchi (C). Jacob. Oil on canvas. 82 x 89 cm. 2004.

Of all three Patriarchs, Jacob is perhaps the most enduring character although his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham had had to endure their own enormous and unique lots. But Jacob had to overcome appearing barriers repeatedly throughout his life, from the time of his early youth after dramatic switch of identities in front of his not well-seeing father, being sent away from home by his courageous, loving and providential mother ( I personally think that Rebecca had a  lot of prophetess qualities in her noble self), until his old age being confronted with terrible blows of believing that he wouldn’t seeing his beloved son Joseph again and suffering, with his entire family, by the devastating famine before being saved from all that by Joseph re-appearing in his life. 

In the middle of his life, Jacob had had to fight for his love, to experience a tremendous disappointment being cheated by the close relative, the brother of his mother, Laban, over Jacob’s marriage to his daughters. He had to overcome a huge fear facing his twin Esau at the point of his life when he was responsible not just for himself, but for many children and four wives in front of his brother capable of a lot of harm to be caused to anyone, and especially so to his antithesis Jacob. 

Jacob had had to witness the utterly premature death of the love of his life Rachel on the road, without being able to bury her within the land of Israel as he knew everyone expected him to do. He was left to live without the only woman he really loved for the rest of his long life while Rachel passed away so early. 

Then he had to withstand the most severe blow being told that his beloved son Joseph had perished. Joseph was 17 at the time. And if all that was not enough, at the late stage of his life, Jacob and his large family had to sustain a severe famine before being saved by Creator sending Joseph back to him. 

We often are thinking after reading and returning to Jacob’s story of the life of that almost devastating non-stop trial: how did he sustain it? And why was such a righteous person, such a good man, exposed to it all, the one blow after another? There is a known concept in the Rabbinic commentaries that says that a person is exposed to his or her trials in accordance with that person’s inner capacities of taking it. It is logical to see the point in this, and the life of Jacob is probably the most convincing sample of this line of thinking.  

I also think that being the last Jewish Patriarch and the progenitor of Jewish people, Jacob was destined to become an ultimate  example of endurance which is the core characteristic of Jewish man and Jewish people in general. 

Faith is not a recreation. Faith is work, a hard work, often. It is not just knowledge, or awareness, it is living according to it – and this is not always an easy thing to do. It does require understanding, conviction, and quite a lot of strength to live in that accordance, not merely a willingness to be in an accord with a world-view and norms dictated by the faith. And here, the role of Jacob for Jewish people in all and every generation is the most important one.  His role as the one who overcomes the most demanding circumstances in one’s life is not only an exemplary, it is all-assuring for every single Jew in generations. 

Michael’s Jacob is thoughtful, he is in the midst of people and events as he was destined to be his whole life. He is also quite firm and decisive in this portrait, as Jewish man has to be. And he is beautiful, as all three Patriarchs were. There is another kind of beauty present, as well.  The beauty of life experience is imprinted on Jacob’s reflecting face. There are wrinkles – and wrinkles. The wrinkles on Jacob’s face on Michael’s portrait of him are not only the imprint of his trials. It is also the statement of his wholesomeness. 

And that look, that very special look of the man who is not surprised by challenges, but who knows how to meet them. This is the essence of the man who has become the father of Jewish people. Jacob’s endurance is the quite-essence of our genes. Especially if we are able to comprehend its necessity. 

The light of Faith created by the artist in this painting is not homogenous. It graduated from its dark version into its blissed one, reflecting the whole spectrum of Jacob’s firmest, and so very dramatic in its genesis light of Faith. 

Leah : the Light of Determination

Michael’s reading of Leah ( Leah, 2009)  is truly special and out  of usual. In the world’s art, the Matriarch Leah’s depiction is somewhat standardised: very rarely, she is portrayed alone, on her own, far more often it is done in double-portraying her with her sister Rachel in a rather predictable way and unfavourable for Leah comparison. In well-known work by Italian Dante Gabriel Rossetti ( 1855), Leah is not only obviously sad, with less life in her than Rachel, but also with very clear message-stamp by the artist who painted Leah in a violet dress, unequivocal sign of unhappiness in traditional colour code of Italy. In a well-known mural by Tiepolo done a century before Rossetti’s work ( 1726-1729), Leah is portrayed as obviously unhappy and clearly less beautiful than her sister. Even when Leah is portrayed alone, very rarely, as being sculpted by Michelangelo in his famous composition for the tomb of the Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome ( 1542-1545), she is obviously sad and tired, sculptured by the artistic genius in tangible detail. 

Michael’s Leah is portrayed on her own, on purpose, with clear understanding and with intention of the artist to merit the matriarch who born six of twelve Jewish Tribes. The artist searches for Leah on her own, for what Leah was in Jacob’s life, their family and in the history of our people.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Leah. Oil on canvas. 86 x 78 cm. 2009.

Michael shared his vision of his enlightening portrait of Leah ( 2009): “ Leah was blessed with the knowledge that she would give birth to Judah and Levi, whose role in Jewish history is so critical. That knowledge defined her life. Knowing her mission and its meaning, Leah was completely focused, in my understanding. She was absolutely determined to marry Jacob, as she knew that David and Solomon would descend from her. The donkey which I have painted here has an unique place in Jewish history. It refers to one of the most mysterious episodes in the Torah, namely the dudaim story. When Jacob came home from the fields, he was riding on a donkey which began to bray. Leah therefore knew to go outside and meet him and that night she conceived Issachar who is described as ‘a strong-boned donkey’. Once again, Leah’s utter determination has been noticed by the Creator, and her unparalleled love to Jacob has been supported by the Supreme Power” – writes the artist in his insights for his Forefathers collection ( Michael Rogatchi © Forefathers. 2011).

This Leah is reflective, as there is so much on her mind perpetually, her husband and her sister who are so closed between themselves that they are as if amalgamated into the one, in Leah’s perception, both painted next to her. But there is also the Lion of Judah, the symbol of our national strength, and Jerusalem on the horizon, the essence of our spiritual home, fortified by David and Solomon, Leah’s descendants. And there is also that donkey which has played such a special role in Leah’s life and her complicated contest with her sister for the man they both did love so much. 

Michael’s painting of Leah is light and bright, Leah herself is dressed in a lovely garment. Yes, her story is complicated, but it is not negative, neither is it the story of rejection. How can it be in the case of the mother of six Tribes, including the tribes of Levi and Judah, the essentially important families for entire Jewish history and the way of the nation? 

Personally, Michael treats Leah with emphasised respect, and artistically, he wanted to paint a different Leah from the known ones in the history of art. In my view, he succeeded. Leah’s light in Michael’s artistic interpretation is the light of determination – powerful, not always too warm, but quite lucid one. And this lucidity certainly helps to overcome many obstacles. 

This painting has also a very special effect being hung on the wall – it starts to illuminate and enlightens everything around it. We have experienced it many times in different circumstances and places, and the effect is always the same. The work produces a palpable and lasting all the time special therapeutic effect. It is one more phenomenon of a nice mystery of art. 

Rachel: the Light of Beauty

In history of art, Rachel, expectedly, is painted probably ten times more often than her sister Leah, and this mass of depiction is divided in two large, but not equal, groups, one, prevailing in quantity of depictions,  with young, sometimes naive, sometimes poetic, always beautiful Rachel as it is done by Chagall, Ryland, Dyce, and the smaller but still large enough group of Rachel in her dying hour, with grieving family around her, like we know from the great works of Francesco Furini, Jacques Pilliard, or Giambettino Cignarolli. 

In contrast to his depiction of Leah, Michael’s portrait of Rachel ( 2009)  is emphatically sad. It is sad because the artist is compassionate to Rachel’s destiny to die so young, to be buried outside Eretz Israel, and to be torn off Jacob, her dear sons Joseph and Benjamin , and her entire family’s life so abruptly, and so tragically. This Rachel is not naive. This beautiful young woman looks at us with full knowledge of her tragic destiny, and also with her understanding of that very special role which she would be playing after her death.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Rachel. Oil on canvas, 86 x 78 cm. 2009.

Michael writes on his portrait of Rachel: “ Rachel died so very young, which was a terrible tragedy. She possessed an unique inner light; and her love for Jacob was really immeasurable, to the extent that she was ready to bear the unbearable for the sake of that love. She was a stunning beauty who, in appearance resembled Sarah, the epitome of beauty in Jewish women. But if Sarah had a stern determination in her, Rachel, to my understanding, is an embodiment of tenderness. Importantly, unlike the rest of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, who are all buried at the same site in Machpelah, Rachel was buried alone next to the road. Jacob had to bury his beloved in that heart-breaking way for the sake of innumerable Jews who, while travelling along the road to and from Babylonian exile, were greeted at that spot by her shining soul.” ( Michael Rogatchi ©. Forefathers, 2011.) 

 The artist’s aim in his portraying Matriarch Rachel was to expand that special light radiating from her soul and transcending all over the place and time, from the place of her burial, with that famous ancient olive tree nearby, towards the numerous Jewish souls in generations. Rachel’s is an essentially tragic story of an unique character: her tragedy transcends light that relieves despair not only among the members of her immediate family, especially Jacob and Joseph, but among multitude of those who were and are in need of consolation. 

There is a telling historical detail in that connection on Sir Moses Montefiori’s personal attachment to Rachel’s tomb. As it is known, the tomb as we know it today and as it hinted in Michael’s work , has been the result of Sir Moses’ initiated and undertaken reconstruction of the Ottoman period’ building in 1841. It was at that crucial reconstruction that Sir Moses who luckily had a very able Italian Jewish architect cousin David Moccata, added an important chamber for praying to Rachel’s tomb, but also quite importantly he did obtain the key from the shrine for the Jewish community which was his another great, crucial deed for the Jewish people and Eretz Israel at the time.

Two decades after the renovation of the original Rachel’s Tomb, the replica of it had appeared at the Montefiore’s private estate which also is the location for their private historical synagogue to this day,  in Kent, England, as Lady Montefiore and Sir Moses’ place of their final rest. The special attachment of Sir Moses to Rachel was in him from his childhood, his mother’s name was Rachel, as well. 

Joseph: the Light of Strength

The connection between mother and son in the case of Matriarch Rachel and Joseph is worth a book of itself, as well as the role of Joseph in his family, his relations with his troubled but stoic father, and his siblings, the Tribes.  Joseph is so very special not only because of thriller-like circumstances of his life, but mainly because of the purity of his outstanding soul and strength of his barely imaginably will. He is the epitome of the best in Jewish people. Maybe, that’s why Michael Rogatchi decided to paint only one brother from Jacob’s twelve sons, Joseph. 

According to Midrash, Joseph was the first person who was praying at his mother’s place of burial when he was broken away from his Egyptian captors on the way to Egypt, to turn to help and protection in his utter despair. He knew and remembered the place as he was seven at the moment of Rachel’s burial. Ten years on, on his way as a captive of Egypt, Joseph ran, if even for a moment, towards it, marked with the pillar of stones, one of which was put by himself.  

The fact that his mother was buried literally on the road was the open wound in Joseph’s heart for all his life. His father Jacob knew about it and tried to explain himself to his beloved son after they reunited twenty two years after the trick that his brothers did to him. 

Based on the teaching of Tosafos, brilliant Baal HaTurimJacob ben Asher, the one of the most important Torah commentators, provides important commentary on the crucial role that Joseph played in the entire Jacob’s life, in Jacob’s own perception. According to it, and supported by the meaning of corresponding gematria, “this teaches us that Jacob did not have any good years without suffering except for 34 [years of his life], that is, seventeen years from Joseph’s birth until he was sold, and seventeen years in Egypt [during he and Joseph were together again]” ( Baal HaTurim Chumash, The ArtScroll, 2004). This is 34 years from Jacob’s 147 years of life.

Michael Rogatchi(C). Joseph. Oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. 2009.

In Michael’s artistic perception, “Joseph is one of the most enlightened personages in Jewish history. He radiated light. He was an incredibly strong person, and his light was a special one, the light of strength. In a parabolic way, to me, Joseph symbolises the strength of light. The light which emphasises a stunning contrast between two worlds: the one enlightened by Joseph’s mighty of good, and another which opposes it. All twelve Jewish tribes were compared to ‘an equal candle’ according to our sages. But the light of the candle which symbolised Joseph was the brightest of them all. The Jewish world enlightened by Joseph is a world of light and joy and compassion, in contrast to the hatred which has and surrounds us all too often” ( Michael Rogatchi ©, Forefathers, 2011). 

No wonder that this expressive work always commands a powerful attraction among the audience when it is exhibited at Michael’s shows. The meaningful composition resolution in this painting is the artist’s metaphor of the light which encapsulated Joseph and all of us in the world which can be antagonistic, hostile and unmerciful. This is a captivating message of this profound work.

Michael Rogatchi (C). The Jacob Family. Art Collage by Inna Rogatchi (C).

When looking and thinking on those works of Michael Rogatchi dedicated to the Jacob’s family, the combination of these four different types of spiritual light comes out as a major factor for each of these works and for all of them together: assuring light of Faith of Jacob, settling light of determination of Leah, consoling light of beauty of Rachel, and protecting light of strength of Joseph. All together, the light of the illustrious family of the progenitors of the Jewish people which still sustains us and infuses us with our ability to survive and to keep our spiritual integrity, the oxygen of life. 

* * * * 

Previous essays in The Ancestors Families series: 

The Abraham Family in Pictures 

The Isaac Family in Pictures

THE ISAAC FAMILY IN PICTURES

The Ancestors Families  Series. Part II of 4 : by Inna Rogatchi (C)

Fine Arts: The Isaac Family in Pictures

Artistic interpretation of the Torah in Michael Rogatchi Art

By Inna Rogatchi (C). 

First published in The Times of Israel , November 2020 .

In between the first Jewish couple of Abraham and Sarah and the couples that their grandson Jacob set with Leah and Rachel, the couple of Isaac and Rebecca might be slightly off the attention which it deserves, in my understanding. 

Perhaps it was traditionally led by our non-comfortability towards Isaac. People are always at loss when they are facing someone who went through something unimaginable. And Isaac’s experience of a trial of Akedah is the ultimate one in the history of mankind. 

So  how Isaac should be treated by anyone around him, in generations? Pretending that nothing has happened to him and he is like any other person? Or to go to another end of a psychological make-up and to sit on his trial forever thus inflicting the awful experience onto him perpetually? To dismiss the non-comfortability of our own facing the extreme in the open without really knowing of how we personally would behave under the circumstances? Probably, the prevailing inclination towards the third, neutral-safe behavioural option has slightly shifted Isaac and his family off our attention in comparison with his father and his sons.  Do we really understand Isaac? Do we know enough about him for that? 

I always was paying attention to this aspect and was thinking about Isaac and his family with additional attention. That is why Michael’s artworks rendering Isaac and his family are having a special magnetism for me. 

Isaac and his eyes

In his Forefathers project, including the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs series and drawings on the theme, Michael Rogatchi has turned to Isaac few times, firstly portraying him in Akedah in 2001 – detailed analyses of it and Abraham family is here  – , and then in two more works, portraying Rebecca and her ( and Isaac’s) family in 2009, and reflecting on a special introvert character of Isaac in his drawing of him made in 2016.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Isaac. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2016.

There is a serious difference between the images of Isaac in the earlier artist’s undertaking and those one which he produced later on. If in Akedah Michael’s Isaac is a beautiful and attractive man projecting goodness and kindness, in Rebecca ( 2009)  and Isaac ( 2016), he is much older and obviously sadder. 

In the psychological history of mankind, Isaac is unique. His personal experience is so unbelievable from many points of view that it clearly sets him apart from everyone. Who else went through such a trial?  What consequences did Isaac bear to the end of his days because of him to be chosen as a test of devotion of both his father and himself? How did it all affect Isaac’s family, his wife Rebecca, one of his two sons Jacob in particular, and even the one of his grandchildren, the most special of The Tribes, Joseph? 

We know  – and can easily follow it on the grounds of conventional logic – that after Akedah, Isaac has become clearly  introverted. To emphasise it, both the Talmud and the Zohar are teaching us that Isaac was preoccupied with digging wells. As a result, he has improved the quality of Eretz Israel, both literally and metaphorically. And it is a very direct indication on what Isaac’s introvert essence meant : depth that seeks vitality. What’s more, we learn from the Talmud that Isaac dug five wells, with their exact locations provided. The Talmud mentioned that these five wells correspond to the five books of Moses. 

Michael’s Isaac in his gentle, loving drawing of 2016 shows the man of devotion and reflection. Isaac in this drawing is slightly but clearly melancholic, with his eyes dimmed, in direct reference to the Torah. 

Why did Isaac’s eyes become dimmed? Did he not suffer enough because of Akedah? There are several explanations or rather short mentions about it in our Scriptures, with the most grounded of them telling that it was the direct result of King Abimelech’s curse upon Isaac’s mother Sarah at the moment when Abimelech has realised that he would never have that woman. “Let it be for you an eye covering’ – Abimelech pronounces to Sarah in Genesis ( Gen.  20:16). Isaac’s blindness is understood by our Sages to be the direct fulfilment of Abimelech’s curse. Isaac was destined to pay for his great mother’s integrity. The drama of life projects these difficult things on the best of us sometimes, starting from our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. 

Michael pays special attention to Isaac’s dimmed eyes in both of his later portrayals of him, eight and fifteen years after he portrayed Isaac in his Akedah. One is seeing in his close-range portrait of our second Patriarch in the drawing made in 2016, and another one as the telling detail on the large canvas portraying Rebecca in Michael’s stunning statement on our second Matriarch that he created in 2009 as part of his elaborated, extraordinary The Matriarchs series. 

There is another very interesting circumstance in not that straightforward relations between Isaac and his son Jacob, or maybe in Isaac’s who as we know from the Torah ‘loved Esau’, in Isaac’s attitude towards Jacob. Many years after highly dramatic episode painted in Michael’s work, when Jacob was himself the father of twelve sons, and when he was mislead to think that his beloved son Josef is dead, Isaac who was still alive, he knew the truth, he knew that Joseph is alive – and he did not tell about it to his son who is in complete torment. How come? Why? The Talmud tells us that Isaac’s line of thought at the moment was subdued:” If H-shem does not let Jacob know that Josef is alive, who am I to intervene?” – he thought to himself. Drama bearing more drama. But this behaviour is completely understood if you remember that it is Isaac , the person who survived Akedah. This kind of trauma never goes away.

The interconnection inside the Patriarchs families is amazing. The connection between Isaac and his grandson Josef gets its own aspect yet later on, at the moment of Isaac’s death. What is the connection? The Talmud sees it as the direct one: Isaac died at the very moment when Joseph stood in the font of the Pharaoh. Isaac knew that his grandson who was in awful and imminent danger for so long, would be OK now. His soul was in peace and could depart. 

Rebecca and her vision

Michael’s portrait of Rebecca is the one of the rare paintings which one can gaze upon for a long time, time and again, every time finding yet new layers in the narrative of the portrait which has been classified by the art expert as a historical portrait, the portrait of a historical personality. 

One can immediately see that Rebecca is portrayed here in the most dramatic moment of her life, at  the moment when she decided to go on with her bold  – and elaborated – plot to make Jacob, her beloved son, the one who would get Isaac’s blessing, the pivotal moment not only in Jewish, but in the world’s history as well. Would not Rebecca intervene, Esau – and the forces which he was embodiment of – might get the blessing of his father, and the history of the world would become much bleaker, undoubtedly. 

On the canvas, we can see a beautiful woman of exceptional qualities deep in thoughts. Beautiful she was resembling in her outlook Sarah, as it is mentioned in the Talmud. And this also was created with a purpose, to console Isaac after his great Mother’s death, and to continue the genetic line of the Patriarchs, also phenotypically.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Rebecca. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm. 2009.

Actually, Dr Freund who was very well versed in Jewish history and in the Torah, did not take his fundamental point on correlation between the psyche of a son and the psyche of a mother from nowhere. He took it from the Torah and Talmud practically literally and then developed it to something never proven and utterly subjective. But he knew the secret – that basic point of the most important inter-connection between a mother and her son will always resonate in most of his patients precisely because there is a pre-dispositioned knowledge about it which is related in the Talmud. That knowledge tells that a son is always deeply and on many levels inter-connected with his mother – until the moment when he gets married, and when that inter-connection switches from son-mother  bond to husband-wife bond.  The first instance in which the Torah tells us about it is Parasha Toldot in which Isaac gets consoled after the tragic death of his beloved mother Sarah when he married Rebecca. 

One should not forget that as Sarah died at the time of Akedah  without knowing of its happy-ending. It is also quite plausible that Isaac could well project some subjective self-guilt of that tragedy on himself. That’s why he was so specifically double-mourning, that’s why he needed that consolation twice as usual man under usual circumstances might need it. And that’s why Rebecca was resembling Sarah, she was ‘in the image of Sarah’, according to the Talmud – as she is in Michael’s beautiful, lyrical and very thoughtful painting. 

This painting also refers directly to another very important detail in the Parasha Toldot and our knowledge from the Torah on that so crucial first meeting between Rebecca and Isaac when Rebecca without second thought knowingly and willingly followed Abraham’s ‘special envoy’ Eliezer whom Isaac’s father sent to his family home to get the right wife for his Isaac, and when running camels on their way back to the house of Abraham and Isaac, Eliezer and Rebecca and Eliezer met Isaac in the field. 

What field was it, by the way? According to the Talmud and Mishah, it was the field next to the Cave of Machpelah, the place of burial of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs except Rachel, that Abraham has acquired some while before in famous episode ( narrated in the previous Parasha Chayei Sarah) for Sarah’s burial. 

What Isaac was doing in the field at the moment Rebecca and Eliezer were approaching? He was praying, being in talis, and with his hand in front of his face. It was mincha, the afternoon prayer which has been instituted by Isaac, as we know. But what’s more, there is no coincidence in that, as there is no coincidence in any event narrated in the Torah and Rabbinic literature. Isaac who was conceived on Rosh HaShanah, was born on Pesach, and it was midday, according to Bereshit Rabbah tractate of the Talmud. So the afternoon prayer mincha instituted by our second Patriarch, has been ‘marked’ to happen in this way by the very time of his birth. 

In stunning consistency of important signs, we know from the Talmud that when Eliezer saw Rebecca for the first time next to the well  ( and here is another parallel to the well as a symbol and main occupation of Isaac in life in general), it was mincha time, as well, tellingly.

What detail in the artwork in question speaks directly on the important symbolic detail in the Torah narrative in the parasha Toldot of the episode of Rebecca and Isaac’s first meeting? The veil. 

Seeing Isaac and was impressed to her innermost, Rebecca instantly has put her veil over her. That veil in the understanding of the Talmud meant twins. In Michael’s painting, the veil and its two contrasting colours represents exactly that, with depth of a very dark blue for Esau and warmth of sun for Jacob. It is wrong to think too simplistically on many phenomena. Isaac loved Esau, and later on in life, Jacob did receive his name of Israel from the Esau’s archangel, thus meaning that as Ishmael had repented at some point as it is known from the Talmud, as Esau did have important potentials and at least once had used it in a seriously meaningful way. And that decisive blue also means necessary action by Rebecca, and refers to that part of her thoughts. So, deep blue is not a total black.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Rebecca. Fragment. 2009.

As for Jacob, on the painting, the more concentrated, heavy tone of yellow part of Rebecca’s veil which is closer to her and symbolises all uneasiness of her and Jacob’s decisions and deeds in getting the blessing from Isaac which he prepared for Esau, that heavy colour gets more and more lucid behind Rebecca’s head and figure symbolising that Jacob’s way in life and what he did on his way that started from his home when his mother has sent him, with Isaac’s blessing, for safety, meant sun and purity for our people in coming generations. We all are children of Jacob and his sons, after all. And in a stunning artist’s statement, small figure of Jacob is completely alone on that long road. From now on, all decisions are his, and all responsibility too. 

Because of her unparalleled bravery, Rebecca was emphatically marked by the Creator: she is  the only Matriarch and the only female in the Torah with whom the Creator spoke. It happened at the moment when she was praying for having children. “H-shem said to her…” . The Talmud comments that it has been done, that the Creator  has spoken with Rebecca uniquely, via Shem. 

Why Shem? Because Rebecca was praying to the Creator at the very special place, the Academy of Shem and Eber, as it is written in Bereshit Rabbah. To the further  excitement, the place is still there, it is situated in Safed, and I have personally found it completely on my own, with Creator’s help, a decade ago. It was an overwhelming feeling to be there. Later on, in a historical book, I’ve read that Sir Moses Montefiori and his wife Lady Judith were brought on their special request to this very place when they were visiting Palestine in 1839.

Inna Rogatchi (C). The Presence III. Shem and Eber Academy place. Safed. Israel. 2011.

There are many things in Rebecca’s life which made her unique. Additionally to those mentioned above, she was also the first woman in history who married the man who was circumstanced in full accordance with Jewish law, on the eight day after his birth.   

Michael is often asked by experts, curators and public members: “Why is your beautiful Rebecca so sad in your portrait of her?” The artist usually replies that he chose to portrait Rebecca at the moment of her taking the most difficult decision in her life – as she knew that she would not seeing her beloved son Jacob again. 

This is a definite tragedy of our beautiful and very brave second Matriarch Rebecca. And also, I personally find it very sad that there is no mentioning about Rebecca’s death in the Torah, unlikely to the rest three Matriarchs. Why is it so? In Pesikta Rabbati ( 12:22), the Talmud says it that as is happened, at the time of Rebecca’s death, Jacob was not there, and Isaac “was sitting at home, his eyes dimmed”. Because the two closest to her beloved men in her life would not be able to accompany her bier for burial, she did ask the Creator to grant to her that she ‘would be taken out during the night’, so the Torah does not mention her death following and respecting her will. Rather sad, I would say, the same sad as the circumstances of Sarah’s death. In their deaths, both most important women for Isaac, his mother and his wife, were encountering similarity, as well. 

Turning to the more positive side, Michael’s own interpretation of this painting about Patriarch Isaac’s family is about a miracle. In his own words, “ This painting is about a miracle. Rebecca was a chieftain’s daughter who never usually went to the well to get water for animals due to her status. But one morning she went there. And when she did so, and was about to start collecting water, she did not have to bend down to the well as the water jumped into her jar. That was the morning when Eliezer, Abraham’s trusted servant, went in search of a bride for Isaac on Abraham’s behalf. To my understanding , the memory of those miracles provided Rebecca with the strength she needed to be able to send her beloved son Jacob at the crucial moment to save his life, despite knowing that she would never see him again. Miracle and Jew are inseparable. There is no Jew without a miracle. Belief in miracles is one of the strongest elements in the entire Jewish world and heritage, even though many of us do not fully realise it. And miracles are definitely an explanation for our survival” ( Michael Rogatchi. Forefathers. 2011). 

If anything in about a miracle in our incredible Jewish spiritual history, and in its origin, the history of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs families in particular, the miracles of Rebecca and Isaac are certainly about it, from the beginning to the end.

THE ABRAHAM FAMILY IN PICTURES

The ANCESTOR FAMILIES SERIES. ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION OF THE TORAH IN MICHAEL ROGATCHI ART

FINE ARTS: The ANCESTORS SERIES

Artistic Interpretation of the Torah in Michael Rogatchi Art

First published: The Times of Israel

Published: Tribune Juive, France

In memoriam: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away on the morning of Shabbat Parasha Vayera. In our eulogising the great Rabbi and our friend, it has been mentioned about the special timing for his abrupt and shocking passing away. Parasha Vayera and following it Parasha Chayei Sarah when the shiva for Rabbi Jonathan Sacks will end, both are telling about the Abraham family, the first and most important among Jewish families. 

Michael Rogatchi has been inspired by the Torah in his art profoundly. Michael also has developed a special intellectual and human affiliation to Rabbi Sacks, in his teaching and him as a warm, thoughtful and special person. In his turn, Rabbi Sacks knew and appreciated Michael’s work. “I found the work of Michael very beautiful and deeply spiritual”, – Rabbi Sacks wrote to the artist a year ago, in November 2019.

I would like to dedicate this essay to enlightening memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, thinking with love and compassion of his wonderful wife Lady Elaine, his children and all the family – IR. 

The Flight Into Other Dimensions

The families of Patriarchs and Matriarchs in the Torah are more than a family. It is a prototype, ‘a matrix’ of a nucleus of our most important way of life. The fact that their own lives were full of events, drama and unexpected turns that needed unorthodox resolutions adds the convincing power to the Torah narrative when it is applied to our all’ lives, thoughts and ideas. But not only. 

Art is a special domain of human activity. It makes our lives richer, interesting, spirited, it fills it with beauty and fantasy, with originality and dream. With freedom. It fills it also with imagination and allows us to find ourselves in other dimensions. And other dimensions we do need, as a rule, but now, in the realities of the pandemic which has altered our lives so deeply, widely and dramatically, we do need it more than ever. Much, much more. We need it badly.

In this ANCESTORS FAMILIES series of my FINE ARTS collection of writings, the attention is focused on the key-families of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and the Moses family. In his Forefathers project, Michael Rogatchi has paid special attention to these four groups of our ancestors in his artistic interpretation of the Torah in a rare undertaking of contemporary figurative art. We are learning about these families every year while reading the Torah through our annual reading circle. Michael’s special attention to these four families has to do with the role of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Moses family in the Jewish spiritual psyche. In our common, and still, everyone’s individual identification to various degrees with these fundamental personalities and the key characters of the Torah.  

What kind of people were our Patriarchs and Matriarchs? What can be added to their stories, their decisions and deeds narrated in the Torah from the worthy sources of primary commentaries of Rashi, Maharal, Malbim and the other early commentators? What special details are enlightened regarding the characters of Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Pirkei Avot, Talmud, and Mishna? What perspective is added to all that by the visions of our great contemporaries such as Rabbi Steinsaltz, Rabbi Sacks, and HaRav Ginsburgh

It is from the tapestry of all that knowledge and insights that Michael bases and waves out his artistic interpretations of the fundamental Biblical figures, and forms his own, distinctive imaginary of the people who have become symbols, the pillars of our attitude to life and our understanding of it.  

Abraham and Sarah in the landscape of the Torah

In his contemporary Biblical artworks, Michael created two double-portraits of Abraham and Sarah. It is the only couple, the only Biblical heroes whom he painted twice. Unlike many artists, Michael does not return to the same subject or character often, except when he is working on music reflecting on its ever-fluid changes. But this is another story. 

In his Biblical series, the artist stays to his principle and his way of work which he has developed due to his scientific background: from elaborating the task, making a thorough research, forming the understanding, to expressing it. 

Of course, art would stay science if an idea, thought, concept and knowledge in it would not be enriched by feeling, emotions, vision and originality. One can produce pretty useful scientific outcomes by being diligent in something not quite original, but important and useful. In art, if one is banal, he or she is lost. Copying, even of the best quality, is for learning, as all artists know, from Renaissance ones to Rotko. 

In his approach to his work on the Biblical themes, Michael is guided by the aspiration to create a distinctive new image to express the phenomenon which is the primary one for his heroes in his understanding. 

He painted Abraham and Sarah for his The Patriarchs series in 1999 and Sarah (and Abraham) for his The Matriarchs series in 2009 as a couple, instead of as separate characters. “Abraham and Sarah are that rare very happy case when a husband and a wife are becoming the one”,  – Michael tells on the background of his works on the first Patriarch and Matriarch portrait. 

His work created in 1999 is essentially about this vital amalgamation.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Abraham and Sarah. Oil on canvas. 67 x 64 cm. 1999.

Michael has explained this rendition in his own essay on the subject: “ According to our sages, an individual Jew represents only a half of a whole, and in order to become a whole requires the missing half. Abraham and Sarah are the perfect example of the whole, shaped from the organic amalgamation of two halves. ” ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers essay, 2011).  

Not surprisingly, the artist solved the work practically in a monochromatic way, with slight lightening of the unifying orange in the Sarah part emphasising the enlightening role of a woman in general, in a Jewish family, in any family, and in this very case. 

The choice of the colour in the work refers to Eretz Israel in a symbolic way, its sun, its sand, its desert, which is seen by the artist – who genuinely likes a desert, in a rare quality – not as a threatening and hostile challenge, but as an accumulation of sun, as a reflection and depositary of it. And also, importantly, as an expression of energy, strength, livelihood which were characteristic for both Abraham and Sarah individually, and of their couple, as well. 

A simple composition of this symbolic frontal double-portrait, which is at the same time is also a family portrait and is a romantic portrait, is clever to convey several important symbols via both Abraham and Sarah’s unified hairs which form ‘the borders’ of the portrait. It symbolises key elements of the Israeli landscape, its sand, mountains, slopes and rivers. 

The stories of the Torah, and those of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs in particular, creates the phenomenon which can be described as the landscape of the Torah.  To render that landscape artistically is a rare pleasure. 

The orange harmony on Michael’s work is also about coexistence, its merits, its comfort, its conditions and principles. In the words of the artist: “Love, delicacy, consideration, mutual self-sacrifice, – all these elements defined the lives of Abraham and Sarah, the first Jewish married couple. In their case, there also was the crucial element of self-discipline, that unique mutual understanding, and their inability of one to live without the other. In this, they are quite different from Adam and Eve”, – believes the artist ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers essay, 2011). 

My favourite term, and actually, the part of the vision of my husband in his perception of Abraham and Sarah as a whole is ‘delicacy’. How rare and precious it is in human relations in general, in marital relations in particular. Perhaps, the long-run relations are successfully long and loving just precisely because of this ability to exercise delicacy towards each other.  

As Abraham was able not just merely listening, but hearing and believing what Sarah was telling to him, even if he sometimes not quite understood her or her motives, or it did not come to him immediately. As Sarah always was seeking to do what is good and right for Abraham, even if it might lead to her own suffering. Their bond was unique – and doubly important because it was the first one on both intuitive and conscious levels in the history of humanity and civilisation. 

In this warm and thoughtful portrait of Abraham and Sarah, the most important feeling, to me, is the mutual content of our first Patriarch and Matriarch with their inseparability, as it is resolved in the work by a double-effect of their shared eye with those soft smiles and quiet radiation of unshakeable confidence of both of them in their shared love.  

Sarah and Abraham: the beauty of the soul

Ten years after Michael’s first portraying our first forefathers in his the Patriarchs series, he continued the Forefathers project with The Matriarchs collection ( 2009-2010). Then Sarah appeared among his painted heroes again, this time in the leading role of the couple’s next portrait.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Sarah. Oil on canvas. 69 x 60 cm. 2009.

The second Michael’s double-portrait of Sarah and Abraham is the portrait of a mature married couple. Everything is different here from their first portrait: the portrait’s composition, its coloristic resolution, the expressions of his heroes’ faces. 

If the first portrait was a portrait of overwhelming mutual magnetism, the second one is a portrait of wisdom. If the first portrait was a statement of a synchronised breathing of a pre-destined couple, the second one is about synchronised thinking of the same couple. This ongoing dialogue between Michael’s Abraham and Sarah does not need words.

The colours in the second portrait are as if coming from the first one, as life develops from its starting point when a family is formed. The same orange which was the only colour of Michael’s first Abraham and Sarah, stays on as a background of the second portrait, with colours of experience in their life weaved into that: dark-red of wisdom, light-red of the gentleness of love, blue of resilience, the emerald of will, the turquoise of challenges, light rose of loving-kindness, the light blue of hope in a child, the first Jewish child of the first Jewish couple; the dark green of determination. And a lot of light yellow, the light of sun over Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. 

Altogether, in Sarah and Abraham’s second double-portrait, the artist presented a full, vibrant palette of life which has originated from the first portrait’s monochromatic colour of promise rooted in deep conviction and warmth of love. 

The expressions of Sarah and Abraham’s faces on the second portrait are similarly thoughtful as in their faces in the first portrait, but with a different kind of thoughtfulness. In this work, their thoughtfulness is more knowledgeable and bears the signs of life-experience. And what life-experience our first Jewish couple has had, indeed. 

Quite interestingly, the emotional balance in this portrait keeps the ratio of the first one. In the second portrait, Sarah has a similar enlightening smile which is as if coming from her innermost, and Abraham has that inner expression of his unconditional support of Sarah, her thinking, her ideas, her feelings, her intention, whatever it is. 

In a contrast with the first portrait, the composition of the second one is different. Instead of looking directly at us frontally, now Sarah and Abraham are looking at each other. It is like their joined life full of so many challenges and dramas, which did provide them both with so much to discuss, with words not quite necessary to convey the feelings. 

Their faces are beautiful, and it is an important integral part of the artist’s understanding of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs who were emphatically beautiful people. There is a serious metaphor in their beauty which is much deeper than just  the features of their faces. It is a special kind of beauty which the Torah sets for us. It is a beauty of the soul. An ideal towards which we all should strive if beauty speaks to us. And what else speaks if not beauty?

Sarah ( 2009) is a sophisticated and modern portrait of Matriarchs and Patriarchs, but it is also quite a tender one. One of its winning and special qualities is transparency, the effect which Michael likes to use. It is a difficult thing to achieve technically, but when it is applied successfully, the entirely new dimension appears in artwork, transcendence, and this is the category which is essentially important for our very understanding of Judaism. 

In the case of artistic interpretation of the Torah, and this very work, the transcendence of light in it projects the image and the principle of the tradition gently. It is achieved by setting the attractive light of the nest of life which has been set for us by the first Jewish family of Sarah and Abraham. 

Akedah: the rock-bed of Jewish family

Michael Rogatchi (C). Akedah ( The Binding of Isaac). Oil on canvas. 84 x 78 cm. 2001.

Abraham and Sarah’s only son Isaac is portrayed by Michael in his The Patriarchs series as part of the family, along with his parents. Michael said that he sees Isaac ‘as the part of the unit with his parents, Sarah and Abraham, perhaps, more than any other central Torah figure, for a historically logical reason: together, the three of them institute the origin of Jewish people, the beginning of the line of Jewish generations. The birth of Isaac, the giving the son to Sarah and Abraham by the Creator, is the key-moment of Jewish civilisation”. 

Michael has chosen Akedah, the most dramatic moment in the lives of all three of them, as the plot to portray his own interpretation of that meaningful unity of the first Jewish family. Was not he worried to step into such over-exploited territory? Akedah probably is the most referred to Biblical episode. On the contrary, Michael responded. “ I did not want to treat this episode in a purely illustrative manner, with legs and hands bound. I wanted to capture the spiritual moment, the moment of that father and that son’s greatest possible spiritual strain that – because of their both’ giant spiritual efforts – has become the touchstone in the history of our people”. 

In the expressive masterly painting, the contra-punctus combines ‘the melodies’ of Abraham and Isaac in the most daring moment for both and each of them. Father and son, they both come from the rock ( following the Isaiah famous saying “ Abraham is the Rock from Which We Are ChippedIs. 51:1)  and return to the rock of our fundamental convictions as Isaac in the painting are forming the same rock with Abraham, expectedly, as his son, but in much-enforced motion after his ultimate life-threatening trial, consciously so. 

Akedah is a triple-portrait.  Sarah is created here by the artist as the figure above Abraham’s head, with her hands stretched forward in her dramatic effort to save her only son. With Sarah’s figure in that position of motherly wholesome gesture of sacrifice and protection,  the portrait of Abraham’s family is complete. With her character and her resilience, Sarah is absolutely the part of the same Abraham’s Rock, the strength of our nation. The whole family is very embodiment of this strength. And the drama which is obvious in Sarah’s desperate gesture is that she would die of horror of the thought of her only son’s death being poisoned by the terrible thought by Satan intentionally. A woman’s heart is not made from steel. 

Colouristically wise, the artist as if combines the ideas behind the two previous portraits of Abraham family, with its further development: the orange from the first Abraham and Sarah’s portrait is coming here as the main colour as well, being enforced into its darker tones, to emphasise the drama of Akedah. The contrasting beautifully deep turquoise background, the colour which is not used often in contemporary art, and in general too ( because it is quite demanding against all other colours), bears the idea which Michael will develop colour-wise, in the second portrait of Sarah and Abraham which he will create eight years after the Akedah. The contrast achieved in this painting is deep and thought-evoking, and as far from a banal resolution, as possible. 

In this unusual family portrait, father and son are looking at each other in the same way in which Abraham and Sarah will be facing each other in the second portrait of them painted by Michael in 2009.  I find it fascinating that Isaac here is having the very same place which his father would be having on the second portrait, and even their both faces are quite similar, as it should be because from the Rabbinic literature we know that Isaac and Abraham looked so similar that people often mistook them each for another. 

Michael’s Isaac is special. One can see that in the portrait, he is an adult man, he was 37 at the time of Akedah. At the same time, his special thoughtfulness and immersion into his own reflections is distinct. The artist’s message is clear: a person who survived such a trial as Akedah, is special, different, and he becomes thoughtful and introverted until the end of his days. As Isaac was indeed, as we know from the Torah and the Rabbinic literature.  This image of Isaac is memorable in the existing image gallery of the depictions of our second Patriarch in art. 

Sarah’s figure in her desperate effort to save her only son is a bold and elegant composition decision. She is trying to protect Abraham and she is trying to reach Isaac. The only person she does not think here absolutely is herself. Typical Jewish mother. It is this dynamic metaphor that unites the three of them together, thus making their unit a family. Ceiling it as the family, actually. 

And this is what it all is really about: when powerful, talented, mighty individuals are able to make a family which is the nest for everyone at any age. Who knows what kind of families there would be among the people in the Jewish world unless we won’t have the stunning, magnetic, powerful, and so very absorbing in their dramatic history samples of the families of our ancestors, starting from the Abraham family. The Rock of Jewish nation Abraham, the exemplification of femininity Sarah, who together, with Creator’s willingness, produced the heights of thoughtfulness in Jewish tradition, Isaac. 

In Michael Rogatchi’s interpretation, all this is reflected in a special way of knowledgeable artistic thinking and fine expression, bringing the origin of our tradition closer to our modern way of perception and reflection.  

Inna Rogatchi (C), November 2020.

ESSAY ABOUT MICHAEL ROGATCHI DEPICTING THE ISAAC FAMILY

The publication of The Ancestors Families series in Michael Rogatchi Art continues

Essay by Inna Rogatchi about the depicting the Isaac Family by Michael Rogatchi in his contemporary Biblical series has been published internationally. This is continuation of The Ancestors Family in art series analysing Michael’s interpretation of the main Biblical families in detail. The essay in full can be read  here.

ESSAY ABOUT MICHAEL ROGATHCI ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION OF THE TORAH OPENS NEW ART ESSAY SERIES

The Abraham Family in Pictures, the first of the The Ancestor Families series of art essays, analyses Michael Rogatchi’s rendering of the Biblical Abraham, Sarah and Isaac

In her new The Ancestor Families series of art essays, Inna Rogatchi analyses the background and vision of Michael Rogatchi’s artistic interpretation of the main Biblical families in his contemporary Biblical art. The essay is dedicated to the memory of Michael and Inna Rogatchi’s fried, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who had passed away suddenly in November 2020. The essay has been also published in Tribune Juive in France. The essay in full can be read here.

MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S ART IS PUBLISHED IN THE TRIBUTE TO RABBI LORD SACKS


Michael Rogatchi’s special artwork tribute to his friend, the great Rabbi and educator

Michael Rogatchi’s Moses Hour original artwork has been published in the tribute to the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who had died tragically early losing his short battle with aggressive cancer in London. The artwork in question belong to Rabbi Sacks and his family. The full text of the tribute can be read here. The tribute published for the first time at The Times of Israel, has been widely re-printed by The Israel National News, The JerUSAlem Connection Report, Tribune Juive.

MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S ARTWORK ON PAGANINI EXHIBITED AT THE SIBELIUS ACADEMY IN HELSINKI

Michael Rogatchi’s well-known Paganini Dream artwork is a part of a special concert at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland

On November 3, 2020, violinist class of well-known soloist and teacher, prof. Päivyt Meller of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland gave a special concert with all ten students performing all 24 Caprices by Niccolo Paganini. In this class, there are students from many countries, with several of them have been already winning several top international prizes and awards. Michael Rogatchi’s well-known Paganini Dream artwork has become a visit card of that special concert. It has been chosen as the concert’s poster, its invitation, and was present during the very special recital in Helsinki, to the joy of all present there, both the soloists, their teacher, and the audience.

Young but very promising violinist talent Adrian Ibanez-Resjan who owns Michael’s work ( he was presented it by the artist at the Rogatchi Foundation Humanist of the Year Award 2019 event in Turku, Finland in February 2020) recently won the right to play on the rare Stradivarius instrument from the collection of the Sibelius Academy. On the photo, Adrian is with his Stradivarius and Michael’s work:

The work in closer detail can be seen here:

Michael Rogatchi (C). Paganini Dream I. Indian ink, oil pastel on hand-made Italian cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2020. Adrian Ibanez-Resjan collection, Finland.

THE BEAUTY OF DEVOTION

Motif of Devotion and Joy in Michael Rogatchi Contemporary Spiritual Art

Motif of Devotion and Joy in Michael Rogatchi Art

By Inna Rogatchi

First published at The Times of Israel

Ushpizin: personal bond

There is a profound paradox  that exists in the narrative of Jewish spiritual heritage when we look at it as the source for artistic inspiration: the league of leading heroes from the Torah and our history is well-known, fixed in its number, and is  largely prescribed in its main features in the annals of our Rabbinic and other literature. Quality art is an innovation always, and to be innovative within so seriously defined territory is a challenge. 

Another challenge for artists who work on spiritual themes is modernity, shortening the distance from the time ancient to us today while portraying the spiritual giants and human models for our behaviour while being responsible in your effort to reflect authentically and respectfully.  

There is no answer or recipe for that. It is highly individual resolution for any artist who dares to step into that territory. Because it all is based on an artist’s feeling.  His or her personal bond towards concrete figures from our Biblical heroes and heroines, an artist’s personal connection to that or another character among them. Without that personal touch, nothing happens. With that personal touch, all the challenges are given a way to process of work, long, uneasy, complicated, but absolutely engaging, educating and rewarding one. 

This personal bond explains the selectiveness of  the  ‘repertoire’ of Biblical heroes portrayed by the artists who worked in that field ( except the cases of commissions, of course). I know it also first-hand, observing my husband’s work on the spiritual theme for several decades. Biblical personalities probably is the most difficult, after the Holocaust, theme to create original artworks, just because of your own, highly subjective, perception of them. And one’s versatility in the subject gets it yet more difficult, paradoxically again. The more you know about our Forefathers, the wider the ocean of their inner world is getting in front of you. You have to navigate there, to be able to create something new, original, authentic, sensible, and not cliched. What is your compass in this navigating process? Your feeling. Your personal feeling  of Moses, and Aaron, and Rachel, and Yochebed. Or not. And then, nothing happens, and just cannot happen. 

In yet another paradoxical twist,  artistically interpreting so well known leading figures of Jewish heritage is, in fact, terra incognita for an artist. And his only real chance to do it is his very personal connection towards some of those shining souls, using the Talmud reference. 

I was writing previously about Michael’s well-known, widely exhibited and reproduced Forefathers series which has started as his artistic tribute to seven Ushpitzin and expanded also to the Matriarchs and other Biblical heroines.

Working on the new book of Michael’s drawings, I came across a rich trove of his artistic dialogues with some of the Biblical personalities especially important for him.

Some of those expressive works tell us not only on the artist’s search which always provides interesting and telling insights, but also get us closer to the resolution of that challenge posed by modern perception. 

In his Study for Sarah and Abraham ( 2010), Michael based his intellectual and artistic search for understanding and expressing  the inner, deep reasoning for Sarah and Abraham’s unique pair-ship, that one-soulness between them that has become – or should become –  the fundament of our all’ relationships between Jewish man and Jewish woman in the family on the Talmudic understanding of meaning of addition of  Hebrew letter Hei to the names of both of them, making Abraham from Abram and Sarah from Sarai. 

Not only Creator has added these two heis to the names of our principal ancestors simultaneously, it is also happened at the moment, as it is recorded in the Torah ( Parasha Lech Lecha , Bereishit 17:4 and Bereishit 17:15)  when they are informed about future birth of their son Isaac, thus sealing with two heis foundation of Jewish family-hood. 

Michael’s thoughts as he related it in his own essays and comments for Forefathers  were led by the multiply meanings of gematria in that process of re-naming of Sarai and Abram by the Creator. There are many worthy comments and explanations on that fundamentally important moment in the Jewish spiritual history. 

The following quote is the facet via which Michael visualised it: “In Genesis, the Creator gave new names to Sarai and Abram. According to the Talmud, to do so He took the Hebrew letter Yod from the end of Sarai’s name. This letter is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and has a numerical value ( gematria) of 10. He divided it into two equal parts and added a half each to both names using two Heis which have the numerical values of 5. He therefore made Sarah and Abraham. He thus made them inseparable. In that glorious couple, the archetype of a Jewish family, each individual was a half of the other. And this is the eternal secret of Patriarchs and Matriarchs”.  ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers. 2010).

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Sarah and Abraham. Pencil on white cotton paper. 50 x 40 cm. 2010.

How many artists rendered Akedah, the Binding of Isaac? It is arguably one of the most visualised Biblical plots in art. How to make that incomprehensible key moment of Jewish and mankind’s history closer to us living today? Michael chose to concentrate on Abraham and Isaac’s, father and son’s closeness at the most dramatic , shocking, actually, moment of their lives. 

He wrote on his version of Akedah – and his approach is also illustrated by his dynamic study for the work: “ Abraham, the Rock from which we are chipped ( Isaiah 51:1), in a moment of unbearable torment during which he was prepared to part with his beloved child forever to satisfy the Creator’s will, resisted tears. It is significant that Isaac, who at the time of the Akedah was a thirty-seven year old man, fully understood both his father’s torment and the Creator’s will. I have tried to convey in this work that rare and amazing unity between father and son born from their limitless belief in the Creator. I did not wish to treat the subject of Akedah in a purely illustrative manner, with both bound legs and hands. Instead,  I wanted to capture this spiritual moment, a moment of the greatest possible spiritual strain that has become the touchstone in the history of Jewish people’ ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers. 2010).  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Akedah. Pencil on white cotton paper. 2003. 30 x 30 cm. Authored unique print on cotton paper. 2019. Permanent Art Collection, Municipality of Jerusalem, Israel.

And then, there are sometimes the works which do not need an explanation. In the case of Michael’s study for Jacob, pure love transforms itself into a beauty. It is known that all our Patriarchs ( as well as Matriarchs) were beautiful people in appearance. And it is mentally registered in Michael’s images of them in all his works dedicated to them. But in this special drawing, on which I personally can look non-stop, and am doing it all the time, the finesse of features is the result of the artist’s love, understanding and close feeling towards his subject. When this subject is the Father of Jewish People, the beauty of seeing Jacob-Israel in this lyrical interpretation is a totally new sensation, with long-lasting effect. A rare work, indeed. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Jacob. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 30 cm. 2009. The Rogatchi Art Collection. 

In Michael’s new and latest rendition of the images of Forefathers, his David with Shofar ( 2020) is young, hopeful, and enlightened. In the artist’s own ‘gallery’ of Biblical heroes, this new King David comes in a sharp contrast with Michael’s very well-known King David from his “Absalom, My Son!..” oil painting (2003) in which Kind David is depicted in the most unusual way, being a tormented father who has just lost his beloved child. The previous tormented King David is a critically acclaimed achievement of the artist who produced that touching, tormented, and making us think  King David with his full compassion. Seventeen years on, the artist who is studying Torah, Talmud and Rabbinic literature deeply and all the time, has produced this young David, playing shofar with elation, David who is an epitome of devotion – and importantly, the kind of devotion which uplifts. Perhaps, one has to live enough to fully understand the beauty, the light and the enlightenment of devotion. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kind David’s Shofar. Indian ink, oil pastel, watercolour. 35 x 25 cm. 2020. The Rogatchi Art Collection.  

Shemini Atzeret – at the King’s Banquet

After a week of Sukkoth, relaxing  under semi-permanent roof, enjoying life with family and friends in our decorated dwellings, altered by the covid realities this year drastically, but still, a special time, we are inevitably getting into the period of concentration – basically, on ‘what it is about’? After stress of Rosh HaShanah, climax of Yom Kippur, and joy of Sukkoth, we are led to that truly special day of Shemini Atzeret, known as our each’ personal attendance of the King’s Banquet, to have that rare moment of contemplation of a different character than we are having in preceding Chagim ( High Holidays), more celebrating, less stressed, in that special anticipation of the new year in our life which has recently started and which lays ahead of us. 

This mood is reflected in Michael’s special work which he calls his ‘self-portrait’ and which he does not exhibit often, for this very reason of privacy. In this survey, however, it takes its just place illustrating that  Shemini Atzeret visit of each of us to that King’s Banquet, in its clarity, laconism, harmonious co-existence of warmth and strictness, and importantly, that dynamic of a questing man, with all kinds of  appearing and reappearing questions to the Banquet’s Supreme Authority on so many of our ever popping in and out doubts. It is also always utterly private conversation, and the essence of this ‘self-portrait’ is fine and telling. 

Michael Rogatchi(C). My Shul. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013. The Rogatchi Art Collection.  

Privacy is ‘a salt’ of our all’  relationships with the High Sphere of our prayers and thoughts. How to relate it? A sole figure on an empty bank of a river would not do for this delicate balance. Such an attitude can portray solitude, not devotion. Because devotion means connection, and solitude means a loss of it. 

Michael authored several different versions of his canonic by now Zion Waltz work which exist  as an oil painting and as a couple of works on paper in mixed technique, one of which was owned by Leonard Cohen who did thank Michael for it warmly, and which now belongs to Cohen’s estate. There are several revelations in this special work, those dancing & embracing doves, that distinct figure of a Jewish poet who is a musician of his own inner thought, as many devoted Jewish people are, independent of their occupation in life. 

But this very study for Zion Waltz, one of several, expresses the essence of privacy of that devotion between a Jewish person and the King at the special moment of those Banquets.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Zion Waltz. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2013. 

And then, our trees.  Starting practically from the beginning of our core spiritual narrative, the Trees – of Life, of Knowledge, of Mercy, of Souls – are commanding the landscape of our thoughts. with different meanings. Those various trees arise in our inner perception with different questions related to the different stages of one’s life. There are also trees connected with our Forefathers, Abraham notably. And then, as a quite-essence of all this, there are trees of Israel, of Jerusalem, of Tiberias, of Safed, the subject of love and devotion of all of us, inside and outside Israel.

Precious, meaningful, dear, beloved Jewish trees of Eretz Israel that every Jewish person bears in his and her heart. As the one of the Michael’s Tree of Light ( 2016), his study for a stain-glass window for the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London known also as the World Jewry’s London address.  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Tree of Light. Pencil on white cotton paper. 50 x 40 cm. 2016.

Beauty of Jewish Devotion

So many times we are saying kiddush during the month of chaggim ( High Holidays), all those kiddushes are different in their inner meanings – and varies our hopes connected to it. One can perhaps create an art series of different kiddushes, from exalted to reflective ones, as there are books with collections of various kiddushes, true enrichment of Jewish tradition.  

But again, when it gets to authentic transferring tradition and heritage into the creative sphere of public domain, it is always personal.  Of all possible kiddushes, Michael chose to portray the moment of that concentrated devotion that makes kiddush so special. He did it in two versions of his thought, on paper and on canvas. 

On paper, the modern symbolism is evident. What is important in this truly special work beyond its aesthetic elegance is the success in creating an artistic archetype. It is not that often when symbolism gets its right with regard to people. It easily succeeds with subjects, and our eyes and minds are used to these memorable manifestations of symbolism as we know it from Picasso, Braque and their circle. But when it gets to people, for a number of well-grounded reasons, symbolism rarely succeeds. The best known samples of such success is Matisse’s Dance, but there are not that many of such works of art creating that successful archetype by the means of symbolism. 

Michael’s man in his Kiddush on paper is a beautiful symbol of observing Jewish man. At the same time, this work is also an elegant symbol of our special Kiddush tradition. It tells it all, and does it in the rare case of artistic success when there is absolutely nothing should be added or left out. 

When Michael handed his work  to its extremely happy recipient in London, in a huge completely full synagogue, there was a wonderful and memorable moment of unified breathless silence of palpable delight , common and shared at the same time. After the ceremony, people were queuing patiently to see the work closer, and everybody smiled , warmly and engagingly, while examining the work from a close distance. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kiddush. Indian ink, oil pastel on yellow Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2016. Private Collection, London, the UK. 

On a big canvas version, Michael decided to portray a slightly different Kiddush. The Jewish man there is  of recognisably Sefardic origin, and the painting’s background represents our desert, both physical one in Negev, and metaphorical one, as well, of our people’s way to ourselves.  This desert is not a homogenous or dull or desperate one, it is the kind of a desert that is an essential element of entire Jewish history. On the canvas, it filled in with the images of our Shabbat candles which are always around us and which are guarding us from one Shabbat to another. 

The two works are united by the men’s devotion at the time of Kiddush, and from that perspective, from the symbolism presenting the archetype of observing Jewish man it gets to the symbolism presenting the archetype of Jewish emotion. In this case, the most personal and guarded of it, devotion. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kiddush. Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. 2016. Zion Waltz series. 

Special aspect of devotion: its privacy

When an artist works from inside practicing tradition, his understanding serves as the best guide to his narrative. It is also the genetic memory of Jewish people that appears sometimes in our artists’ works, and this kind of loving loyalty makes this kind of art a sincere and simple song which reaches everyone. 

Michael’s work Journey in Time I ( 2016)  from his Journeys in Time series relates just this kind of the connection to the Jewish spiritual life-rope, our Torah. The life-rope that has saved us from extinction many times during all our over 3 300 years of history from the Exodus onward. 

Devotion has its unmistaken aspect, privacy. The real thing is always quiet. For simple reason: a person does scream when he speaks to himself. How more so it is true in our personal inter-connection with the Creator. The one of the most profound and beautiful descriptions of this core aspect of  Jewish Faith is found in the famous episode in the Writings describing Elijah’s encounter with the Creator ( Kings I, 19: 11-13). It tells Elijah in the process of powerful demonstrations that the Creator is not in the wind, nor in an earthquake, or in a fire. But then comes that ‘still, thin voice’ – and  upon hearing it,  Elijah knows that he has just met the Creator, in person. 

There is mass of commentaries of this central episode in the Scriptures, expectedly. The one of the most beautiful and reasonable ones comes from the great Ralbag, Moshe Ben Gerson, known also as Gersonides, star Talmudist and serious scientist from early medieval France, who notes that the characteristic of ‘still, thin voice’ means a transition between state of silence and state of sound, or in another words, the inner voice, the kind of voice when revelation is perceived by a person for himself. The most convincing moment of truth. 

Importantly, all our commentators agree on the main outcome of that episode: that the Creator is not to be found in a pompous manifestation, but in a quiet devotion. Michael’s modern drawing expresses the view of Gersonides that he had written in his brilliant  commentaries to the Kings seven hundred year ago.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Journey in Time. Pen on cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2016. 

The Joy of the Torah , the Warmth of a Friend’s Shoulder

And then, at the end of our annual High Holiday month, after that contemplating period, after the end of Sukkoth, at the Banquet of the King, comes the exuberance of joy, Simchat Torah. We all have our favourite holidays in our rich circle of them. Michael’s one of the dearest for him is Simchat Torah. It is impossible to explain, it is  – yes – personal. I guess that being raised in an observing Jewish family under the Soviet oppression of religious freedom, the outpouring manifestation of gratitude to the Creator for having the Torah, the guide in life, has its special overtone for Michael. Additionally to that, he simply loves people and his friends, and loves to be in a good company. 

His lyrical Shtetl Song III ( 2013) drawing was created after spending the end of the High Holidays with our dear friends, a warm and family-like congregation of Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine led for 30 years by now by a brilliant man and outstanding Rabbi of our times, Shmuel Kaminetski.  With regard to this work, Michael says that it is a clear-cut case when the inspiration comes from a concrete address. What is interesting to me in this live connection it is the fact that the revived life of Jewish communities in former Soviet Union after 70 years of its total suppression awoke the live creative energy in the artist who created the image celebrating the Jewish life all over the Eastern and Central Europe yet for centuries before the Bolshevik suffocation of freedom and before the Nazis annihilation of Jews and our Shtetls there. This work , and the history behind it, is a live proof of our Silver Thread that keeps us together from the ancient times until today. What can be more modern than the proof of ancient heritage alive?

Michael Rogatchi (C). Shtetl Song III. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2013. 

Rose is one of the central symbols in Jewish tradition, and it gets close to Michael’s heart in his work as the artist, as well. He paints and draws roses often, always in a symbolic way, not as a plain illustrative exercise. Among many of his roses, the one giant one on his Simcha.Dance of Joy painting is special. It refers to the famous and bellowed symbol of the Thirteen-Petalled Rose which was first introduced by talented and original thinker and early  Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Abulafia in mid-13th century before it was brought closer to the wide audience of modern times by the late Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. 

It is also Rabbi Abulafia’s gentle metaphor comparing the Torah for Jewish people with ‘ milk for children’ in its absolute organic necessity and its pre-destined naturality, and also in its abundance and vitality in building one’s body. This famous rose of Jewish wisdom and petal-like multi-facetedness of our educated and family-inherited values’ approach to life, coloured as milk is a background for the Chasidic dance of happiness, Simcha, in this Michael’s painting.  The rose flies in the cobalt-blue skies symbolising the stronghold of our principles and willingness to defend them. Together with the flying rose there, the cobalt-blue skies of strength are forming the universe of Israel and Eretz Israel. The work occupies a prominent place at the hospitable house of our dear friend, great Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetski, as I am happy to note with his kind permission. Rabbi Shmuel always mentioned that his family always gathers together next to this painting.  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Simcha. Oil on canvas. 100 x 80 cm. 2009. Private collection, Ukraine-USA 

This artist loves to place his personages in skies, for a number of reasons. Especially Jewish ones. Jewish musicians, dreamers, singers, dancers. ‘Why is that?’ – Michael was asked numerous times, at many of his exhibitions and encounters with viewers,  – ‘is there a straightforward metaphor of lyrical flying applied in these works, telling on your romantic perception of your people?’ – ‘Not necessarily’,  – Michael replied several times, – ‘in my understanding, the thing is that music, dreams, dances, thoughts, and prayers originated in Jewish heart, conducted in sincerity, simplicity, and devotion  are losing its gravity. Simple.” 

Simple, indeed, when it is felt  – and painted – organically.

Inna Rogatchi (C). October 2020.

FINGERPRINTS: HOMAGE TO LEONARD COHEN

 Homage to Leonard Cohen, International Project, from 2019 onward

Fingerprints is special  international project in memory of Leonard Cohen. Michael Rogatchi participates in this project together with his wife Inna Rogatchi who is the author of the project and its curator. 

Michael’s participation in the project is creating special art works dedicated to Leonard Cohen, as a part of forthcoming commemorating international exhibition.

Leonard Cohen. (C) Open Internet Library.

For Michael Rogatchi, the project commemorating Leonard Cohen is personal endeavour. Inna and Michael knew Leonard well, and maintained contact with him for years. Leonard did like and supported Michael’s art very much and his attention, understanding and friendship were fundamentally important for the artist. 

One of Michael’s works, Zion Waltz, belonged to Leonard Cohen, and now is with Leonard’s family.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Zion Waltz. 2013.

During the years, Michael has created several artistic homages to the person whom he loved dearly, and whom he calls ‘the real Cohen’. For this project, the artist creates some new works in commemoration of unique man, Leonard Cohen. 

The project that combines efforts of many people and several institutions from different countries, includes exhibition, film, lectures and special events in several countries.  

ESSAY ABOUT MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUAL ART

Motif of joy and devotion in the essay on Michael Rogatchi’s contemporary spiritual art

In her new essay The Beauty of Emotion, Inna Rogatchi analyses the motif of devotion and joy in Michael Rogatchi contemporary spiritual art. The essay spanning from Michael’s drawings to his works in oil, and it focuses on his fine and innovative view in rendering most delicate and introvert of human emotions. The essay in full can bread here.