Portrait of Maimonides as conceived by the American
artist, Ben Shahn (1898-1969) in 1965.
This brush drawing together with Rex on the facing page were prepared
in 1965 for the Spiral Press edition of Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher
and were produced as woodcuts by Shahn's friend, the printmaker Stefan
Martin. It is a reworking of a previous portrait of Maimonides done by
the painter in 1954. Note the rather stern and even angry look on Maimonides'
face. Shahn's love of letters is manifested in the calligraphy above the
portrait that forms the first verse of the Book of Ecclesiastes: "The
words of Kohelet son of David king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says
Kohelet, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." In the portrait Shahn portrays
Maimonides as an angry prophet who finds that everything in the world
is vanity or as it is variously translated, futility. The starkness of
the calligraphy enhances the negativity of Maimonides' facial expression.
Compare it to the portrait on the facing page where the king (Maimonides)
has a look of calm resignation and perhaps even acceptance of an imperfect
world. The calligraphy in this portrait is more stately and traditional
and is framed by a book.
Art and Architecture Library