Join the Conversation

A magnificent gift of artwork for Three Testaments

January 28, 2011

(It had been my intention to open this blog entry with examples of art as described in what follows, but they refuse to be edited in. The words are from the Illustrations page in the book, and under Acknowledgments we will express gratitude to Paul and Roy Kligfield, executors of their fathers estate, for the magnificent gift which is so appropriate to our project.)

In the appearance of art from the Counsel Collection in Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel and Quran, the late publisher, art collector and philanthropist, Irving Kligfield, has bequeathed a treasure to us all. This collection of religious artwork from the Middle East, includes Jewish, Christian, Muslim and contextual materials appropriate for our study. The compilation of a lifetime, what became registered as the Counsel Collection has never been shared with the public except for a short-lived exposition in The Family Bible Encyclopedia published by Curtis Books in 1972, shortly before Curtis Publishing disappeared, along with the Saturday Evening Post.

That twenty two volume encyclopedic work was intended to popularize the scholarly advances of Biblical studies in the previous hundred years, and included artistic material drawn primarily from two sources: the New York Public Library and the Counsel Collection, which, as the name indicates, was a legal repository. With the exceptions of scriptural charts, geographic maps and Islamic calligraphy, the extensive art exhibited in Three Testaments is limited to artworks verified by the counsel as being in the public domain, plus works both purchased and commissioned by Kligfield, for which the copyright resides in the name of the Counsel Collection.

Kligfield began this particular collection by acquiring woodcuts, etchings and metal engravings in the public domain from the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These evocative black and white illustrations by Giovanni Battista Ferrari, William Blake, Horace Castelli, W. J. Linton, Gustav Doré and others include engravings associated with the invention of the printing press and other traditional pieces before the advent of photography and color reproduction. This initial collection was then augmented by an extensive series of scenes described in historical documents, which Kligfield commissioned various artists to produce in this same ancient and redolent style. The engravings were finally supplemented by selected scenes in drawings and photographs taken by a team he sponsored on site in the Middle East over a three year period. In particular, we exhibit one drawing in situ which illustrates a stele among the current ruins of Persepolis depicting the throne of Cyrus under the Zoroastrian symbol better than any photograph could portray.

The art in the front matter of this volume and in Book One displays contextual materials and Torah related works. The art in Book Two features graphic scenes from the life of Jesus, many never before viewed except in the instance described above. Book Three contains a remarkable series of photos and drawings of ancient tombs of patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel in traditional sites accessible to visitors today, all of which have been maintained through the centuries by Muslim trusts and boards of trustee. The seemingly ironic reasons for their devoted service to this work are described at greater length in that part of the volume, an eye opener in respect to the intertwined relationships within the extended family of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah. While historical details of a few of these scenes may be open to question, their ethos reflects a traditional religiosity that may be closer to the spiritual animus of the ancient world than modern analysis and, particularly in the case of the traditional tombs, convey insights that lie behind the texts which are the subject of this entire exercise.

Posted by: Brian Arthur Brown