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November 03, 1989 - Image 82

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-11-03

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Art Of



The Little Russian, 1913.


Special to The Jewish News

n his preface to the
catalogue of the current
Jewish Museum exhibit
on Italian Jewish art,
Primo Levi, the late Italian
Jewish writer, describes the
language of the Jewish com-
munity of his native Pied-
mont region. He calls it
"Judeo-Piedmontese, the
language of the family and
the home," and characterizes
it as having "sprung from the
contrast between the fabric of
the discourse, which was the
rustic and laconic Pied-
montese dialect, and the
Hebrew inlay, drawn from the
language of the patriarchs,
remote but enlivened every
day by public and private
prayer and the reading of the
books, polished by the millen-
nia like the bed of a glacier."
Levi's description of a
native dialect inlaid with
Hebrew was meant to explain




the humor of certain terms.
But the concept of one
culture appliquing symbols,
styles and forms onto another
could as well apply to the
museum show.
"Gardens and Ghettos: The
Art of Jewish Life in Italy,"
traces a history of a people
and a culture through its art.
It does so with both style and
substance, capturing the
uniqueness of the Italian
Jewish community in nearly
340 objects.
The exhibit is divided into

In "Gardens and
Ghettos: The Art of
Jewish Life in Italy,"
the Jewish Museum
traces the history of
a people and a
culture through its
creative output over
a period of 2,000

four periods: the Roman Em-
pire (1st-5th centuries), the
Era of the City States
(1300-1550), the Era of the
Ghettos (1550-1848), and the
modern period since the
Risorgimento (1848-present).
The show is bracketed by
tragedy. It opens with a cast
of the Arch of Titus showing
Roman soldiers carrying the
Menorah after the burning of
the Ibmple in 70 A.D. and the
enslavement of thousands of
Jews. It ends with the draw-
ings of Aldo Carpi, an artist

imprisoned in Malthausen
during the war, who survived
by drawing pictures for the
SS and secretly sketched
scenes of concentration camp
life. There are other tragic
episodes: a blood libel in the
Middle Ages and the enforced
ghettoization over many cen-
turies. But despite these
destructive periods and even
during some of them, the
Jews survived, flourished and
produced special works of art.
This is a community, the
oldest in Western Europe, to-
day numbering around
35,000, that both touched and
was touched by its surround-
ings. Italian Jews first left an
imprint on Rome and south-
ern Italy 2,000 years ago.
There are examples of sar-
cophagi reliefs, gold glass,
photographs of the painted
walls of the Jewish cata-
combs, tomb inscriptions

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