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
||David Palombo working on the Knesset gates. Photographer:
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
But there were others who thought otherwise. The art critic Miriam Tal wrote
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
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
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
||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.
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