Song of Songs
In the Biblical Message, the Song of Songs is illustrated across five canvases evoking the famous poem of the Bible. Despite its carnal dimension, this love song, taken to have been written by Solomon, was included as one of the books of the Bible, so effectively that the Jews turned it into a symbol of the covenant between God and his people, Christians, the love song between God and his church.
Various shades of red and pink conjure up the softness of flesh and sensuality, but also the colour of blood – thereby recalling the violence of the biblical story and that of Chagall’s chosen hero, David. To have Bathsheba for himself, he sent her husband into battle so that he would die. The compositions are structured around circular shapes which lead our eye on from one painting to the next.
Chagall manages to make the three dimensions of the Song of Songs felt: musical, sacred and carnal.
Song of Songs I
Oil on canvas
146.5 x 171.5 cm
The entwined couple, at bottom right here, are a feature of all the paintings in this cycle. The yellow and blue gazelles visible in the top left-hand corner evoke this erotically-charged verse of the Song of Songs: “Your two breasts are like two fawns/ Twin fawns of a gazelle/ Which feed among the lilies”. David is not actually present, but there are two allusions to him: his throne in the right corner of the canvas and a bird playing the lyre – the King’s favourite instrument – on the left.
Down the right-hand edge of the painting is a town plunged into darkness and the silhouette of a young naked woman: in the Song of Songs, the fiancée wanders the streets of Jerusalem at night in search of her beloved.