Churches and synagogues across Europe feature the stained-glass windows of the modernist painter.
In his 75-year-long career, Russian-French painter Marc Zakharovich Chagall, born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Liozna, Belarus, in 1887, was able to synthesize elements of Fauvism, Cubism and Symbolism into an idiosyncratic style that set him apart from any other artist of his time. Pablo Picasso famously stated that after French expressionist Henri Matisse had died, no other painter could “get color” like Chagall.
Chagall’s dreamlike style and choice of subjects—love, faith, grief—gave his works a deep-felt humanity that differentiated itself from much of the abstract and intellectual creations of his modernist contemporaries.
As Jean-Michel Foray, the director of the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum in Nice, France, put it: Chagall was the painter who “restored to art the elements that modern artists rejected, such as allegory and narrative—art as comment on life.”
In his early seventies, the Russian-born master started to experiment with stained glass, a technique that was well suited to bringing to life his bright-colored, dreamlike images.
Over the course of 15 years, Chagall designed iconic glimmering blue windows in both synagogues and churches around Europe that are now known as “peace windows.” Born into a Jewish family, the artist spent much of his life in Catholic France and said he was interested in spreading a “universal message” of peace, love and tolerance using both Jewish and Christian themes.
“For me a stained-glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world,” Chagall said. “It is something elevating and exhilarating.”
Some of the most striking “peace windows” depicted by Chagall include:
1. Fraumünster cathedral, Zurich, Switzerland
One of the oldest churches of Zurich, Fraumünster cathedral was built on the remains of a former abbey for women founded in 853 by Louis the German, the grandson of Holy Roman Empire ruler Charlemagne. Chagall painted five 32-foot windows on the four walls of the church, with biblical motifs including Moses receiving the Torah and Jesus’ crucifixion. The 80-year-old master used his famous green and blue tones to represent earthly scenes, such as Moses holding the Ten Commandments tablet, while opting for warmer colors such as red and yellow to represent heavenly subjects, like the ascent of the Prophet Elijah into heaven.