In the early 1930s, art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard commissioned Chagall to create a new series of engravings. For this, their third collaboration, the artist turned to the Old Testament and experimented with new methods in etching. Instead of the usual engraving tools, he employed unconventional instruments that had the capacity to scratch or cut flat surfaces, such as phonograph needles and pens. This rigorous process, which required the copperplate to go through at least fourteen states, including several acid baths, facilitated unique textural and tonal effects. The present work recounts the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of God as four winged creatures, their multiple faces enveloped by coals of fire that radiate bolts of light. As described in the biblical passage, each figure is depicted with one of the four faces through which the divine presence was manifest—man, lion, ox, eagle—each representing one of the four evangelists (Ezek. 1:1). Chagall’s journey through Palestine in 1931 was partly motivated by his undertaking of the Bible series. Yet in reflecting that he did not see the Bible but rather dreamed it, Chagall associated the religious iconography of his work with the wider world of the imagination.
Text credit: Produced in collaboration with the University of Maryland Department of Art History & Archaeology and Patricia Ortega-Miranda.