My article “Why Was This Italian Artist So Interested in Painting Synagogues?” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward. Here’s the lede:
Nearly 275 years after Alessandro Magnasco’s death, experts still aren’t sure what to make of his work — particularly four paintings of synagogues.
Known as il Lissandrino, Magnasco was born 350 years ago Feb. 4th. He wasn’t Jewish, but synagogues were among his most frequent subjects, notes the Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns “Interior of a Synagogue” (c. 1725-35). The museum describes the work as “mystical, dark, and imaginative,” adding that the artist likely viewed Jews as outsiders. “Magnasco’s personal views on Judaism in Italy remain unknown,” it states.
Some 350 miles west, the Art Institute of Chicago owns Magnasco’s “The Synagogue” (1725-35). A third Magnasco synagogue resides in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Here, a rabbi covers his head with a tallit and officiates from within a circle of candles, which may be a reflection of Magnasco’s lack of experience with synagogue services, though some scholars insist he would have been familiar with the Livorno synagogue.