This exhibition showcases a wide and diverse range of books from the LBI collections, suggesting that whether or not the content is expressly Biblical or religious, their design displays a refinement and connoisseurship that is remarkably modern.
The Jewish presence in publishing was so prominent that it included newspapers, magazines, books and music. Fiction, classics, avant-garde, the best new writers and the best old ones were published by Jewish houses that were wiling to experiment with content and design. Book jackets became part of the package; illustrations became as important as text.
For centuries the People of the Book were engaged in all aspects of religious texts, printed or handwritten and often elaborately illustrated. From illuminated Esther scrolls to exquisitely illustrated haggadoth and elegantly decorated ketuboth, marriage contracts, the spectrum of the Jewish literature was varied and wide. The Enlightenment shifted the focus from religious subject matter to secular interests. In the pursuit of becoming acculturated into the German mainstream, Jews were contributing increasingly to secular literature and journalism in languages other than Judeo-German and Jewish artists created works ranging from book illustrations to political satirical cartoons to children’s book designs.
Artists of all times have wrestled with illustrating the biblical narrative, even though illustrating the Torah and other legal texts has been forbidden by Jewish law. As modern printing techniques accelerated and the readership of literature increased, the written word became a marketable commodity in search of consumers. When George Salter embarked on a career as a designer of book covers in 1927, graphic design was still in its infancy. The idea of advertising books and other cultural assets by enhancing their appearance was not a consideration until the late 19th century. The Arts and Crafts movement in England, founded by William Morris in England, 1861, and its attempt to create works of art that encompassed all spheres of life, obliterated the boundaries between high and low art and gained popularity throughout Europe. The idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk [comprehensive work of art] was one of the core ideas of the German Jugendstil movement and later taken up again by the artists of the Bauhaus.
Katherine and Clifford H. Goldsmith Gallery
The Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
6:30 – 8:30 PM
Sunday: 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
Monday to Thursday: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Friday: 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.