The history of Jews is centuries-old and extremely rich, what may be attributed to the vicissitudes of this nation. For centuries, due to persecution and oppression from numerous fronts, they have been forced to migrate all over the world and try to make their way within different cultural circles.
As a natural result of this historical process, they have taken from as well as contributed to many cultures, becoming generically a part of each but still maintaining the genuinely Jewish core.
One may only understand the art and craft of this nation by truly comprehending this extensive history combined with the profound attachment to the Jewish tradition. This diversity has been an inspiration and had undeniable influence in creating of the dazzling array of fine art items. Given the circumstances, it should not come as surprise there exists a category of Oriental Jewish rugs – exactly Bezalel Rugs from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
The story begins in the early 20th century with the revival of Jewish life in the modern Israel territory, which until the end of the First World War remained in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. With the end of the war, the land was taken over by the British, who established there the Palestine Mandate. It is worth noticing that by the end of the World War II, the Jewish community of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population. In this tide of socio-political changes, in 1906, Boris Schatz established a school for Jewish immigrants inflowing from all the parts of the world. He foresaw the creation of a national style of art which would constitute an incredible mix of Jewish, Oriental and European traditions. A beautiful curio is that the students hailing from different countries did not have any common tongue despite being factually one nation, so one of the main subjects at school was Hebrew. Is may rouse association with the biblical Tower of Babel tale, but in reverse, where the Curse of jumbled languages is broken by education.
Thanks to the creation of the Academy, Bezalel rugs came into existence. Always adhering to the finest artistic and technical standards, the carpets fused influences of the Oriental weaving art with those from the west, such as Arts&Crafts or Art Nouveau movements. They explored the subject of folk art tradition, however the most prominent motifs were the ones referring to the Jewish religion and the history of the Chosen Nation. It resulted in a very unique type of aesthetics which is nowadays among the most desired and sought-after of all. Warm color palette, which may reflect the influences of the Anatolian rugs from the Ottoman Empire, perfectly composes with pictorial scenes of biblical parables, Hebrew inscriptions or representations of traditional objects, such as Menorah lamps. The weaving workshop was called Marbediah, from the Hebrew word for carpet – “Marvard”, so the rugs created there may be referred to not only as Bezalel, but also Marvadiah rugs. Interestingly, Bezalel also has a specific meaning – it translates into “in the shadow [protection] of God” and Bezalel in person was responsible for building the Ark of Covenant.
Today, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is located on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem and has 1,500 students.