|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of Four Matriarchs on south wall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017. A better picture is here.|
|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of Sarah on south wall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.|
|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of Rebecca on south wall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017|
|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of Rachel and Leah on south wall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.|
The four women strike poses familiar from classical and Renaissance art. Based on form alone, they could be Greek or Roman matrons, or even goddesses, muses, allegorical virtues, or sybils - as painted by Ballin earlier in his career. There is nothing quite like this in Jewish art since Edward Bendemann painted The Mourning Jews in Babylonian Exile a century earlier in 1832 and now in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, which depicts too mourning Jewish women seated next to a chained Jewish man.
|Edward Bendemann, The Mourning Jews in Babylonian Exile, oil on canvas, 1832. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.|
|Hugo Ballin, The Sibylla Europa Prophesying the Massacre of the Innocents, 1906. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum|
|Hugo Ballin, Window in Tomb, Brooklyn, NY. Architectural League Exhibition Catalogue, 1907.|
Rabbi Magnin, who had much to say about many of the Patriarchs and Prophets, said nothing about the women. But Dr. Luce speculates about their significance and also finds Mabel Ballin's presence here:
Like the female figures in his early paintings, Ballin placed the Matriarchs in a pastoral setting, removed from the realities of everyday life. Nevertheless, their positions and poses suggest aspects of their characters and experiences as "Mothers" of the nation Israel. On the left, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, looks down, perhaps disconsolate over her long period of childlessness or over the near loss of her only child, Isaac, at the hand of his father. Rebecca, wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob and Esau, holds a pitcher representing her hospitality at the well. Rachel, beloved wife of Jacob, opens her arms in an embracing manner. On the right, Leah appears disconsolate as well, perhaps because she is the unloved wife of Jacob.
Confounding any interpretation of symbolism of the women is the fact that each of the women also resembles Ballin's wife, Mabel, suggesting that this portion of the mural is in some ways an expression of his love and admiration for his wife. Indeed, soon after his marriage, some observers noted that “traces of certain singularly attractive feminine features [were] asserting themselves more and more in his canvasses,” guessing that it might be because he, “unconsciously reproduces her [Mabel's] features in his work."1 Ballin likely felt that Mabel embodied the qualities of each of these mothers and may have aimed to honor her contributions to his household by including the "Four Mothers" in his mural.
|Mabel Ballin in Motion Picture Magazine (1920 or 1921)|
|Mabel Ballin in Judge (Dec 11, 1920)|
|Maurycy Minkowski, Po pogromie (After the Pogrom), 1905. Oil on canvas. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art)|
|Boris Schatz, A Hebrew Mother, 1904, terracotta relief, 80x50cm. From Boris Schatz Father of Israeli Art|
|Boris Schatz, Judith, 1905, plaster relief. From Boris Schatz Father of Israeli Art|
|Lesser Ury (German, 1861-1931), Rebecca at the Well, c. 1908, oil on canvas, Stiftung Jüdisches Museum, Berlin.|
Teicholz notes that prominent placement of the matriarchs reflected attitudes within the congregation, where mixed seating of men and women was first adopted in the 1860s. Women were later counted in the minyan and before the 23rd amendment granted women the vote in American governmental election, women at Wilshire were made full members with an equal vote on synagogues matters.
These four are not the only women represented in the mural - there are several other generic women shown as wives and mothers. Women are also represented in "The Messianic Age" in the western lunette. In the spandrels over the east arches, there are scenes representing the sacred books, and the Book of Proverbs is shown with female figures, one weaving and the other giving drink to the thirsty, representing the passage about "A Woman of Valor." The Song of Songs is interpreted as a sensual love poem rather than an allegorical one, and it is represented by a beautiful and somewhat exotic woman seen in profile at the western end of the arches. With her feather headress, bangles, and chic loose outfit dropping in vertical folds to the ground, she might have felt as at home in a 1920s Paris nightclub as on the wall of synagogue.
Likewise, the image of Beruriah, the ancient Talmud-scholar wife of Rabbi Meir, is shown as a young and comely woman, looking over her husband's shoulder - either commenting upon or guiding his work. The large full-length image of Maimonides is shown before a supplicating woman and child.
|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of Bururiah and Rabbi Meir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.|
|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of seder scene. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.|
|Los Angeles, CA. Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Warner Memorial Murals by Hugo Ballin (1929). Detail of Sabbath lamp lighting. . Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.|