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The Knesset Building in Giv’at Ram - Planning and Construction
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The Knesset Building: Additions
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Mrs. Dorothy de-Rothschild with Knesset Speaker, Kadish Luz, August 30, 1966
The Knesset as seen through the Palombo gate
Work on the wall mosaic by Chagall


Art

After returning from a tour of parliaments in Europe at the end of 1958, Powsner commented that during a visit to the regional parliament building in Harlem in the Netherlands, the construction of which had been completed in 1956/57, he had learnt about “the architectural difficulties in using art”. In his opinion, even though the planning of the building in Harlem was very clear, there had been an exaggeration in the integration of a large quantity and variety of art works, and “the result is that the decoration came at the expense of the simple architecture”.116

Marc Chagall supervising the creation of the center tapestry   David Palombo working on the Knesset gates. Photographer: Werner Braun

It was, however, only six years later that the issue of the integration of works of art in the Knesset building, and especially the two “jewels in the crown” - the Chagall tapestries and mosaics and Karavan’s wall in the plenary hall – started to be dealt with seriously. In the Implementation Committee there was talk of establishing an expert art committee,117 but it was finally Gad who decided, more or less on her own, which works to order and from whom.118 Gad’s main problem was the scanty budget at her disposal.119 Gad mentioned her distress to the Speaker of the Knesset, Kadish Luz, and in a letter that she sent him on September 2, 1965, she had the following to say:

Unlike the beginning of the Century, we are returning in our age to the approach that architecture is not complete unless the two other arts are combined in it - sculpture and painting. This approach was predominant is the periods in which the good buildings were built, as in the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Gothic era, and even in the period of magnificent construction in the country in the period in which the Temple was built, in the Hellenistic period, in the Roman period, etc. In the Knesset building - the most important in our state - the need to add works of art to the various spaces in the building is self-evident, especially in view of the fact that the planning work was done with the prior thought that works of art would enrich the place, especially spiritually, and would add to it color and interest. In most countries at least 2% of the building’s budget is devoted to art… This is a minimum required to complete the Knesset building.120

Gad also approached the then Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, directly, and he referred her to the widow of the James de Rothschild. And indeed, Dorothy de Rothschild donated an additional sum of money for art works, most of which was used to finance Karavan’s wall in the plenary hall.121

It was Gad who approached the sculptor David Palombo to design and create the gates to the Knesset compound. The three gates that Palombo created were made of iron and were dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. The length of the gates is 17 meters and their height is around three meters. The lattice-work of the gates is made up of abstract shapes with a most dramatic formative rhythm. Not everyone liked the gates. Klarwein himself complained about them: “It is not pleasant to talk of this now. He (Palombo) possibly created a very nice gate, but I do not understand its symbolism. I took the Chief Architect of New Delhi to see it, and when he saw it he said: ‘What, you did that? It looks like Auschwitz.’”122

But there were others who thought otherwise. The art critic Miriam Tal wrote about them:

The iron entrance gate by Palombo, is indeed similar in its style to the Hall of Remembrance gate at Yad Vashem - a shocking and wonderful work, but also different from it. The gate is made up of three large sections, which are similar but not identical: two central pillars, from the floor to the ceiling of the entrance structure, uphold the grill-work of the three sections. The noble vertical and horizontal shapes are moderately pointed, and constructed at straight angles, that are not rigid. These shapes raise associations with Israeli vegetation - the cypress tree, for example - as well as with ancient and modern weapons. In a simple and convincing way the idea of independence has been translated into the language of solid abstract shapes, through which the Knesset building and its foreground may be observed.123

Palombo also sought to create the main entrance doors to the building itself, but Gad decided to commission the sculptor Shraga Weil to do the job,124 and he designed three doors made of wood and covered with bronze sheets, which were processed by means of acid cauterization. The panels are decorated graphically with shapes taken from the treasure of Jewish symbols from ancient times. Before his premature death in a motorcycle accident Palombo managed to create a memorial to the fallen in the War of Independence, which later turned into a monument in memory of all the fallen of the IDF. The monument represented the burning bush that was not consumed. It was made of scrap iron welded together, and standing on heavy basalt stones.125

The Palombo gate at the entrance to the Knesset compound

The Tribes’ (Weil) Gate at the entrance to the Knesset building

Gad ordered five additional works of art. She ordered a relief portraying the High Priests’s breastplates from the sculptor Buki Schwartz. The relief, which is 3.60 meters high and 3.10 meters wide, is cast in bronze and inlaid with blocks of glass. It decorates the wall along the stairs between the second and third floors. The artist Dan Ben Shmuel also created a relief with the dimension of 3.60 X 3.10 meters. The bronze relief is made-up of square and cubic shapes. According to the artist’s explanation, the consistent combination of square shapes, in complicated and varied combinations, that nevertheless maintain the regularity of the basic form, is an abstract expression in sculpted form of the wealth of political and social opinions and ideas represented in the Knesset, which are subordinated to the basic laws of the democracy. However, one can view the relief also as a sort of mould or model of a modern city, whose buildings and narrow streets meet at straight angles and create a maze. This relief stands above the southern elevators on the fourth floor.126

A picture painted by the artist Re`uven Rubin was ordered for the government meeting room on the second floor of the building. The painting, donated by the artist to the Knesset, portrays a mountainous scenery in the Galilee, and its size is 3.30 X 2.00 meters. A picture by the artist Moshe Kastel, entitled “a song of glory for Jerusalem” was ordered for the foyer outside the Prime Minister’s room on the second floor. The size of the picture is 7.00 X 2.00 meters, and it is made of ground basalt, that was gathered from the environs of Kurazin, from which a mash was prepared, which was then pasted onto wooden boards. According to Moshe Kastel “the composition is a sort of giant red rock in the form of a pyramid, standing on the base of an ancient stone. On the rock characters from biblical times are drawn in the form of a relief, a sort of pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple… On the upper part of the relief ancient Hebrew characters are drawn, like a scroll symbolizing the bravery and eternal life of Jerusalem, city of David”.127

Reuven Rubin painting the picture for the Government meeting room in the Knesset. Israel Zafrir ©, provided by the Jerusalem Post archive   Chava Kaufman making color corrections on the tiles of the ceramic wall in the cafeteria. 1966

Dora Gad got to know the ceramics artist Chava Kaufman in the course of working with her on previous projects.128 At Gad's request Kaufman created a ceramic wall for the general cafetaria of the Knesset, whose dimensions are 21.00 X 2.85 meters. The wall is composed of ceramic tiles made in a special technique, which enables variation in and transparency of colors. The artist chose soft colors, and the entirety is abstract and decorative. One of Kaufman's teachers from the period when she studied in Paris was the mosaic artist, who Chagall had brought to the Knesset in order to produce his mosaics - Nino Melano.

Another two works of art, which were planned but were not executed, were a tapestry by Mordechai Ardon, and a mosaic by Nahum Gutman.129 Gad also wanted a work in enamel by the artist Vera Ronnen for the Committee floor, but this was not materialize.130

It should be noted that Dorothy de Rothschild, who donated the money for most of the art works, did not intervene in matters of design, except for the corner in memory of her husband and his father, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild.131


116 Minutes of the 11th meeting of the Implementation Committee, held on December 1, 1958, the Knesset Archive, file 2181, box 26.
117 It was proposed that in the Committee on Art the members would be Prof. Michael Avi Yonah, an Archeology the archeology of Eretz Yisrael, Dr. Fritz Schief, director of the Haifa museum and an expert in art history, Dora Gad and Joseph Klarwein. See minutes of the 72nd meeting of the Implementation Committee, held on March 26, 1963, the Knesset Archive, file No. 3188, box 5.
118 There were those who objected to Dora Gad’s independence on this matter. The Association of painters and sculptors, for example, sent the Speaker of the Knesset a written protest that the artists were selected without a tender. Miriam Tal, “Ha'omanut Bebinyan Haknesset” (Art in the Knesset Building), Hayom, October 7, 1966.
119 It should be noted that it was the French Government that paid for Chagall’s tapestries.
120 Knesset Archive, file 3181, box 5.
121 Interview held by the writer with Dora Gad, June 18, 1998.
122 “Hetz Misilvy Keshet”(An Arrow from Silvi Keshet), Ha'aretz, August 26, 1966.
123 Miriam Tal, “Ha'omanut Bebinyan Haknesset” (Art in the Knesset Building), Hayom, October 7, 1966.
124 Minutes of the 93rd of the Implementation Committee, December 27, 1965, the Knesset Archive, file No. 3188, box 5.
125 See guidance material on the art works in the Knesset building prepared by Avigdor Possek and Milka Chisik in October 1971, the Knesset Archive, box No. 4 (general boxes).
126 Klarwein referred to the relief as “that ornament of strange protruding projections made by I-don’t-know-which-artist above the elevators”. “Hetz Misilvy Keshet” (An Arrow from Silvy Keshet), Ha'aretz, August 26, 1966.
127 Yeshayahu Ashani, “Shir Habazelet Asher Lemoshe Kastel” (Moshe Kastel’s song of basalt), Davar, August 28, 1966.
128 Esther Lorain, ”Kir Haharsina Baknesset" (The ceramic wall in the Knesset), Lamerhav, August 28, 1966.
129 Minutes of the 96th meeting of the Implementation Committee, held on March 29, 1966, and minutes of the 98th meeting of th Implementation Committee, held on June 27, 1966, the Knesset Archive, file 3188, box 5.
130 Interview held by the writer with Dora Gad, June 18, 1998.
131 Ibid.

Continued...




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