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Knesset: Israel Parliament & Marc Chagall

The Israeli Knesset is located in Jerusalem and is the home of the Israeli government. However less known and also one of Jerusalem’s best kept secrets, are the incredible Marc Chagall tapestries and mosaics inside the Knesset.

Marc Chagall designed and decorated the reception hall inside the Knesset. It was his gift to the State of Israel. The artworks created by him include:

  • Three huge tapestries
  • Twelve floor mosaics
  • One large wall mosaic that covers the entire north wall

All the Chagall artworks tell the story of the Jewish people from the Patriarch Jacob in the biblical times to the establishment of the State of Israel.

With incredible gratitude to Marc Chagall and his magnificent artworks, the Knesset reception hall was later renamed The Chagall State Hall.

One of the Floor Mosaics made by Marc Chagall at the Knesset in Israel
One of Chagall’s floor mosaics
Photo by Nizzan Cohen CC BY-SA 4.0

Chagall & Tapestries

After WW2 ended, Marc Chagall returned to France and settled down in the small picturesque village called Saint Paul de Vence in Southern France. At this stage of his artistic career, Chagall started experimenting with other artistic media such as engraving, plastics, ceramics, stained glass, sculpture, mosaics and tapestries.

During his later years, Chagall designed twenty tapestries for both private collectors and public buildings. All these tapestries were made in close collaboration with the tapestry weaver Yvette Cauquil-Prince. They were both masters and kindred spirits, Chagall in drawing and Cauquil-Prince in translating the picture into a stunning woven masterpiece.

Chagall Tapestries - Knesset, Israel
Chagall Tapestries – Knesset, Israel
Photo by Nizzan Cohen CC BY-SA 4.0

Chagall is Chosen to Decorate the Knesset, Israel

In February 1962 Chagall returned to Jerusalem to attend the unveiling of his twelve magnificent stained-glass windows for the Abbell Synagogue. During the event Radish Luz, the Spokesman of the Knesset asked Chagall to decorate the state reception hall in the new parliament building, which was currently under construction.

Originally, stained-glass windows were suggested. However Chagall decided that huge colorful tapestries would work better for this huge hall which was teeming with natural light.

The only guidelines given to Chagall were to capture the Jewish narrative, from biblical times and up until the creation of the State of Israel. Chagall accepted the proposition with great enthusiasm.

The Themes of Each Tapestry in the Knesset

The Theme Exodus – The Middle Tapestry

This tapestry portrays Moses in blue, leading the Jews out of Egypt.The angel blowing the ram’s horn (the shofar) symbolizes god guiding them. There are many other symbols and references to different biblical stories. Such as Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, The Golden Calf and Jacob wrestling with the Angel.

More recent historical events such as pogroms, burning of homes, and depictions of the Holocaust were also woven into this tapestry. Chagall even includes the wandering Jew with a sack on his back. This wondering figure symbolizes the Jewish people throughout history, wondering from country to country. It is also symbolizes Chagall’s own personal story, exiled to America during World War Two.

However, the central theme, of the Tapestry is an optimistic one. It shows the Jews returning to their Promised Land, the State of Israel.

The Chagall tapestry called Exodus
Chagall Tapestries – Knesset, Israel
Photo by Nizzan Cohen CC BY-SA 4.0

The Theme – Entry into Jerusalem – The Left Tapestry

The left tapestry portrays the Jews in Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. The main character is King David playing the harp. It is a joyful tapestry as we see figures playing many kinds of musical instruments. In the background is the Ark of the covenant and on the left, the Israeli flag with the Star of David and “Israel” written in Hebrew.

This is a beautiful, vibrant and celebratory tapestry. It celebrates the Jewish people’s
return to their ancestral promised land. It also depicts Jerusalem as the continual focus of the Jewish story throughout their history.

The left tapestry entitled: Entry into Jerusalem
Chagall Tapestries – Knesset, Israel
Photo by Nizzan Cohen CC BY-SA 4.0

The Theme – Isaiah’s Prophecy – The Right Tapestry

The third tapestry is called Isaiah’s Prophecy. It depicts the biblical passage:

“and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fading shall graze together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah)

This beautiful passage paints a picture of peace and tranquility. It describes a universe where former enemies and even nature’s enemies live in harmony. Wolves live with lambs; cows and bears graze together. They do not hurt or kill one another. This is Chagall’s beautiful message of peace for the Jews and for all Mankind.

The right Chagall tapestry entitled: Isaiah's Prophecy
Chagall Tapestries – Knesset, Israel
Photo by Nizzan Cohen CC BY-SA 4.0

Fun Fact about the Tapestries!!

It is estimated that these spectacular tapestries used 160 different shades of color and 68 kilometers of thread to reproduce Chagall’s gouaches!!!!

The Unveiling of the Tapestries in 1969 in the Israeli Knesset

The three tapestries were officially unveiled on June 18, 1969 in the presence of Chagall and Israel’s most important dignitaries: The President of Israel, Zalman Shazar, Prime Minister Golda Meir, and the Knesset Speaker Kadish Luz.

Marc Chagall and Golda Meir at the unveiling of his tapestries at the Israeli Knesset
Marc Chagall and Golda Meir at the unveiling of his work at the Israeli Knesset, 1969.
Photograph by David Rubinger.

In Chagall’s speech, he said that the founding of the State of Israel gave him immense inspiration. It represented for him a “new hope” for the Jewish people. He said:

“My aim was to get closer to the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, to the land where the creative spirit, the Holy Spirit, is at home, such as hovers over every page of the Bible; and hovers here in the air, over the fields and in the hearts and souls of the inhabitants!…There is no art or creation in a life without love. Love lives in this land and everything that comes of love is great and sublime. Let my work here, whatever it may be, serve as an expression of my love and devotion to this land, the land of justice and biblical peace.”

Chagall’s Artistic Expression of Hope

Chagall’s magnificent tapestries for the Knesset in Israel express his happiness that the Jewish people have finally fulfilled their biblical dream to return to Jerusalem and create a State of Israel. His tapestries are Chagall’s blessing of justice, creativity, love and peace to the newborn country.

The only way to visit the Knesset is with an organized tour. Press here for more information about tours in your language.

For more information about Chagall and his artworks, see the articles below