715 x 570 cm
After World War II, fired by a desire to do something different and because he was receiving major public commissions, Chagall turned his attention to monumental works of art. He had just finished the 11-metre long mosaic of Nice’s Faculty of Law, The Message of Odysseus, when he set about embellishing the museum with this mosaic, devoted to the prophet Elijah, taken up to heaven as his disciple Elisha looks on.
The composition focuses on circular shapes – from the smallest, the wheels of Elijah’s chariot, to the orb surrounding the central figure, to the oval of the peripheral zodiac.
The choice of subject, tailored to the museum’s primary, biblical, dimension, is evidence of Chagall’s syncretism. During his trips to Israel, he had visited the ruins of synagogues harking back to the first centuries A.D. In such times particularly drawn to imagery, these were decorated with ornamental tiling with motifs borrowed from Roman iconography, such as the zodiac surrounding the sun chariot. Chagall has replaced this with Elijah’s chariot.
On the zodiac, middle right, Chagall playfully depicts his two granddaughters – twins – to illustrate the Gemini symbol.
Completed when Chagall was past 80, the mosaic was produced by the mosaic artist Lino Melano under Chagall’s watchful eye. The tesserae (the small tiles making up the mosaic) blend stones in pastel shades for the background and vitreous paste for the coloured motifs.