Marc Chagall White Crucifixion Poem

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Chagall engaged in a weekly study of Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, in Hebrew. His command of biblical idiom was fluent, as his recollection here of Psalm 22:1—though in Yiddish—shows (“Hastu mir verlatzen, mein Gott? Fer was?”). But the first line in the stanza, the allusion to Luke 9:23, reveals also a knowledge of the New Testament. Here, as in his paintings, the two testaments are drawn together in a personal expression of spiritual distress.

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The October Revolution of 1917 was a dangerous time for Chagall although it also offered opportunity. Chagall wrote he came to fear Bolshevik orders pinned on fences, writing: "The factories were stopping. The horizons opened. Space and emptiness. No more bread. The black lettering on the morning posters made me feel sick at heart". Chagall was often hungry for days, later remembering watching "a bride, the beggars and the poor wretches weighted down with bundles", leading him to conclude that the new regime had turned Russia "upside down the way I turn my pictures". By then he was one of Russia's most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde, which enjoyed special privileges and prestige as the "aesthetic arm of the revolution". He was offered a notable position as a commissar of visual arts for the country[clarification , but preferred something less political, and instead accepted a job as commissar of arts for Vitebsk. This resulted in his founding the Vitebsk Arts College which, adds Lewis, became the "most distinguished school of art in the Soviet Union".

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