After his arrival in the United States, Van Gelder produced two monumental lithographic masterpieces in English, each measuring nearly four feet in height. These lithographs were lavishly illustrated with dozens of biblical scenes and augmented by hundreds of related biblical texts. Several years ago, a monumental hand-drawn micrographic artwork by Van Gelder was discovered. Highly similar in style and content to his American lithographs, it was believed to be the only known manuscript work by the artist. The present work, however, is a newly-found manuscript masterpiece and one of the earliest dated examples of a Jewish artist using English as the language of his micrographic work.
Van Gelder was a Freemason and served as the Captain General of the Siloam Masonic Lodge in Chicago. In this plaque, several Masonic symbols are depicted, including the Eye of Providence and the Anchor. In addition to his artistic endeavors and Masonic proclivities, Van Gelder was a Jewish mystic or Ba‘al Shem (Master of the Name) who made amulets to ward off disease, notably during the epidemic of Yellow Fever which swept Louisiana and Tennessee in the Southeastern United States in 1878. In retrospect, this helps to explain his predilection towards large devotional plaques with clear kabbalistic antecedents.
Leila Avrin, Micrography as Art (Paris: Centre national de la recherche scientifique; Jerusalem: Israel Museum, Department of Judaica, 1981).
Stanley Ferber, “Micrography: A Jewish Art Form,” Journal of Jewish Art 3-4 (1977): 12-24.
Alice M. Greenwald, “The Masonic Mizrah and Lamp: Jewish Ritual Art as a Reflection of Cultural Assimilation,” Journal of Jewish Art 10 (1984): 87-101.
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