Shofetim: Which Artist?
Jan van Eyck was one of the first artists to portray himself in a godlike pose: He painted himself facing forward.
Portraiture before this point was done on profile to mimic the portraits of Roman emperors minted onto coins. Only divine figures were painted facing forward. Van Eyck’s full-frontal portrait is not only an expression of his ego, but also with the philosophy of Neo-Platonism. He believed that art was the closest approximation to the perfection that must exist in Heaven, and that artists were therefore the conduit of a reflection, a shadow of the divine on earth.
Along the bottom of his self-portrait is written: “Johannes van Eyck me fecit”, which is Latin for “Jan van Eyck made me.”
This week’s portion, Shofetim, deals with the transmission of the Oral Law (See Marathon Man) and its creative power and energy. We agree with the Neo-Platonists that artists are the shadow of the divine on earth. We disagree with them about which artists meet this definition. We believe that only the artist in applying Torah to every aspect of this world and life is truly an artist. It is they, the masters of the Oral Law, not the van Eycks or Durers, who are considered the reflection of the Divine.
This power is offered to all. We do not need to be born with the special gifts of van Eyck, just with the desire to enter the palace of Torah and explore its treasures.
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