Large micrographic mizrah plaque by Levi(e) David van Gelder, ca. 1846
Gelder, Levi David van. [Micrographic Mizrah plaque]. Amsterdam, [ca. 1845]. 76 x 60,5 cm. Lithograph, printed on heavy, watermarked paper stock (76 x 60,5 cm), signed (in the stone) below the image: "met de pen vervaardigt door LDvG Amsterdam". A horizontal fold, some marginal stains and tears (several repaired at the back), browned, most notably on the four corners, still overall in good condition.
A large and stunning micrographic mizrah plague by famed Jewish artist, lithographer and printer Levi David van Gelder (1815-1878).
In the early 1840's Van Gelder probably lived in Veendam, settling in Amsterdam in circa 1845. In Amsterdam he worked as printer and lithographer, and during this period he produced his earliest striking mizrahs. In 1853 he moved to England, eventually emigrating to the USA, settling in Chicago in 1864, where he was also active as a Freemason.
Van Gelder produced several complex micrographic mizrahs, meant to be hung on the eastern wall of a home or synagogue to indicate the direction of prayer: "mizrah" is the Hebrew word for "east". The present mizrah beautifully interweaves texts in Dutch (from the Rosh Hashanah Liturgy) with rich biblical imagery and a lovely zodiac circling around a central opened book. It is an impressive example of the Jewish micrographic tradition, which dates back to the ninth century and uses minute lettering to form figurative designs.
In 2018 Van Gelder's work featured in the New York exhibition The Edge of Visibility. Curator Susan Tallman aptly described Van Gelder's art as follows:
"His compositions packed illustrative medallions in and around ornamental text, large and miniscule, sometimes further elaborated with collaged materials in color—a singular melding of 19th-century commercial design, religious tradition, and intuitive horror vacui".
Collection Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, M001755; cf. Avrin, Micrography as Art, pp. Tallman, 'Edge of visibility', in: Art in Print Volume 8 (2018), Number 3.