by Samuel D. Gruber
Today is the 175th birthday of the Vilnius-born international successful Jewish-Russian sculptor Mark Antokolsky (2 November 1840 – 14 July 1902) a pioneer Jewish sculptor in the 19th century at a time when very few Jewish artists engaged in the plastic arts. Antokolsky's role in sculpture, and his example, was similar that of academy painters in Western Europe of the general after painter Moritz Daniel Oppenhiem. Antokolsky began with Jewish themes, but embraced Christian and Russian national subjects.
In his student years he depicted several Jewish character types (Tailor, 1864) and unfinished works on Jewish themes, ("Talmud Dispute" (1866–1868) and "Inquisition Attacks the Jews" (1868–1869). He later created a large seated figure of Spinoza (1881).
His depictions of Jesus are among the first in a series by many artists of a more "Jewish" Christian savior. Jewish-Polish painter Maurycy Gottlieb addressed similar themes about the same time.
In Russia, Antokolsky's fame rested especially on his statues of the tsars Ivan the TYerrible and Peter I. Antokolsky was a mentor to Boris Schatz, who became a court sculptor in Bulgaria before embracing Zionism and founding the Bezalel School in Jerusalem.
Coincidentally, just this past week I walked on M. Antokolskio g. in the old Jewish quarter of Vilnius, named after the famous native son. The Sculptor died in 1902 and is buried in the Jewish section of the Preobazhenskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg. There is also an Antokolsky Street in Tel Aviv.
Lyubov Golovina, "Mark Antokolsky: " I have done everything I could...", International Panorama, 3, 2013 (40)
Olga Litvak, "Rome and Jerusalem: The Figure of Jesus in the Creation of Mark Antokolsky," in Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Jonathan Karp (eds), The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) (Jewish Culture and Contexts)