Levi David Van Gelder (1816-1878) produced the earliest examples of his distinctive micrographic artistry, during the 1840s, while working as a printer and lithographer in his native Amsterdam, By imaginatively combining minuscule, words and letters, and integrating them with oversize decorative word panels, some accomplished by the application of collage elements, Van Gelder achieved his uniquely characteristic style of calligraphy and while still in Holland, produced at least four separate exemplars of these engraved mizrah plaques. In 1864 Van Gelder, along with his wife and children, relocated to the United States where he settled in Chicago.
After Van Gelder’s arrival in America he designed two important monumental lithographic masterpieces, each measuring nearly four feet in height, both lavishly illustrated with dozens of biblical scenes, and augmented by hundreds of related biblical texts, as well as selections from the liturgy of the High Holidays. The pieces created by Van Gelder in the United States feature English translations of these texts rather than the Dutch versions found in the earlier artworks produced in Amsterdam. At least one of these colossal lithographs was published by Joseph Brillant and Meyer Rabinowitz, New York printers who had already achieved renown in the world of Jewish art by producing several other micrographic works in Hebrew and English.
This newly discovered monumental micrographic artwork is the only known manuscript version of Levi van Gelder's unique artistic style and an important masterpiece of American Judaica. The artist has drawn forty-nine vignettes, populated with a wide assortment of important biblical figures, running the gamut from Adam and Eve, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Moses, Aaron and numerous other leaders, kings, prophets and judges, surrounded by hundreds of biblical verses, hand-printed in ultra-fine letters.
Van Gelder was a Freemason and served as the Captain General of the Siloam Masonic Lodge in Chicago. Not surprisingly many of his artistic creations, including the present manuscript, contain elements of Masonic imagery; here, the roundel at top center contains the pillars Jachin and Boaz from Solomon's Temple, a mason's compass, the Eye of Providence and several other masonic symbols.
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