Author Tags: Art, History, Illustration, Jewish
As a school girl in Bucharest, Lilian Broca knew her Jewish identity was better left hidden. In 1958, her family immigrated to Israel, then onto Canada in 1962. Since the late 1960s, having married and moved to Vancouver, Broca has frequently looked to mythological and biblical stories of courageous females to inspire her art.
Broca’s The Lilith Series, about the legendary character created before Eve, served as the basis of a book co-authored with Joy Kogawa. Now Broca, as a mosaic artist, has been inspired by the story of Esther, a young Jewish girl who became queen of Persia, saving her people in the fifth century BC.
With a preface by Judy Chicago, The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca (Gefen $35) is a 200-page coffee table book designed, in Chicago’s words, “to put the woman’s voice back where it should have been in the first place.”
A lyrical prose-poem by Yosef Wosk, using Esther’s elder-sage voice, has been added to this lavish reinterpretation of Esther’s story about both sacrifice and female empowerment. Broca’s Queen Esther Mosaic Series, seven years in the making, also benefits from contributions by Sheila Campbell and Linda Coe.
Grudgingly competing in a beauty pageant to select Persia’s new queen, in accordance with her foster father Mordechai’s wishes, Esther is chosen by King Ahashvayrosh (aka Xerxes) and placed in his harem. She does not divulge her Jewish upbringing and beliefs, as advised.
When the evil Haman plans to exterminate Jews without the king’s knowledge, Esther agrees to Mordechai’s request to risk her life by approaching the king uninvited—an act for which she is liable to be sentenced to death.
For Broca, Esther’s story also “exemplifies a successful intermarriage of two people from different cultures, namely Jewish and Persian…. My unexpected discovery that one of the earliest if not the earliest written reference to mosaics occurs in the biblical Book of Esther, in the passage describing King Ahashvayrosh’s palace, further contributed to my decision to return to this powerful, singular art form.” 978-965-229-560-6
The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca
One of the most exquisite series of mosaics in contemporary art is celebrated in a newly released, lavishly
illustrated large format book entitled The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca.
Published by Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem and New York, the book marks the culmination of a journey that began in 2002 with the first completed work in the series. In a stirring testament to the significance of Broca’s masterpiece, renowned American artist and feminist Judy Chicago writes in the book’s preface: “The Queen Esther Mosaics by Lilian Broca contribute to the vital historic task of what the biblical scholar Naomi Graetz called for in S/He Created Them: Feminist
Retelling of Biblical Tales (Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 1993): ‘…to put woman’s voice back where
it should have been in the first place.’”
The ten monumentally sized works in the series retell the biblical story of Esther in dazzling detail, using
the finest of Italian colored mosaic glass, plus gold leaf and other precious materials. The work won the
prestigious Lorenzo de’ Medici medal at the 2003 Florence Biennale. In addition to showcasing the spectacular mosaics, the book includes a chapter by art historian Sheila Campbell comparing Broca’s interpretation of the Esther story to that of other artists such as
Rembrandt and Artemisia Gentileschi, and a highly evocative epic prose poem written in the voice of Esther by rabbi and scholar Yosef Wosk.
The book begins with Vancouver artist Broca’s own lively description of her emigration from war-torn Romania to Israel and ultimately to Canada. She goes on to reveal what led her to tell the story of Esther in the medium of mosaics, describing as well the meticulous process involved in using ancient artistic techniques with a
contemporary sensibility. The book is rounded out with the full text of Esther in handsomely calligraphed Hebrew alongside an English translation.
As Broca writes, “I trust that this series, the final segment that completes a circle in my life’s artistic creation, would please
the old Byzantine masters. And in doing so, I also hope my mosaics have brought new light to the fascinating, multifaceted story of Esther.”
Artist Lilian Broca’s career has spanned three decades, including thirteen years teaching painting
and drawing. A recipient of the 2003 Florence Biennale gold medal, her work has been featured in sixty-five exhibitions in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Celebrated for her spirited exploration of contemporary societal issues in a variety of media, Broca draws on historical iconography, legends,and popular myths.
Archaeologist, art historian, and curator Sheila Campbell has published widely on ancient and contemporary mosaics and Byzantine art. A Professor Emerita at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, she has curated many exhibitions, including a showcase of the Scuola di Mosaici
(Friuli, Italy) at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Scholar, rabbi and former Simon Fraser University professor Yosef Wosk took inspiration from Lilian Broca’s mosaics to create a lyrical prose poem in the voice of Esther. The prose is accompanied by notes illuminating Wosk’s extensive investigation of biblical and mythological aspects of the Esther story.
The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca
Lilian Broca, Sheila Campbell, Yosef Wosk. Published by Gefen Publishing House Ltd., Israel and New York
November 1, 2011
Available in bookstores and from Amazon
Heroine of A Thousand Pieces: The Judith Mosaics of Lilian Broca
from BCBW (Spring 2016)
Once upon a time, in a Jewish city called Bethulia, there lived a beautiful, young widow named Judith who was mourning the loss of her husband, Manasseh.
When the Assyrians threatened to overrun the city, the town fathers were unwilling to take responsibility for defence of their city against the marauders led by Holofernes.
So Judith rose to the occasion by no longer disguising her beauty.
The elders are astounded when she appears before them in opulent robes and jewellery.
“May the God of our ancestors grant you favour,” they say, “and make your design successful for the glory of the Israelites and the exaltation of Jerusalem.”
Judith set forth for the enemy camp, accompanied only by her maid.
General Holofernes and his troops “marvelled at her beauty, regarding the Israelites with wonder because of her, and they said to one another, ‘Who can despise this people who have such women among them?’”
The Assyrian soldiers left Judith unharmed and allowed her to observe her Jewish rituals for several nights until Holofernes, intending to have her as his concubine, invited her to dine with him...
He intends to rape her, if necessary, but the wiley and alluring Judith succeeds in getting him drunk.
Judith beheads Holofernes with a sword when he is inebriated and asleep.
The unsullied heroine and her maid hurry back to Bethulia with Holofernes’ head in a bag.
Shocked by the assassination, the Assyrians flee.
Judith takes the head of Holofernes to the Temple of Jerusalem where she is accorded the honours of a male hero. Instead of accepting riches, Judith chooses the independent life of a devout widow, refusing to remarry, remaining childless.
Painters throughout history have depicted how a chaste Jewish temptress named Judith beheaded an oppressive invader named Holofernes to save her people from oblivion.
Heroine of A Thousand Pieces: The Judith Mosaics of Lilian Broca (Italian Cultural Centre $25) explores and reveals how Lilian Broca’s mosaic cycle of seven tile works has reinterpreted the story of Judith that was first recorded around 163-142 BCE.
This mythical tale can be viewed as an amalgam of Scheherazade, Mata Hari, Salome and David vs. Goliath—depicting a femme fatal as a saviour of the Jews—but the fictional story of Judith also connects on religious and feminist grounds.
Contributor Yosef Wosk outlines in chapter two the deeper meanings of the Judith story—including how Judith can be viewed as personification of Israel itself.
It doesn’t matter that the city of Bethulia never existed or that Assyrians in the story were said to be ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian. The power of the story lies in metaphor.
“Judith lived the rest of her long life, 105 years, in pious integrity and dignified nobility,” Wosk concludes, “she became a legend in her own time but the concept of personal happiness was as rare as it was foreign to her generation.
“Happiness was contingent upon the nation, the people, the family, deity and the dedication to duty. The book’s twin engines—wrapped in drama and charged by suspense—are patriotism and piety.
“May we continue to be inspired by the study of Judith’s exploits and the telling of her story—mosaic and archetype, real or imagined. May her actions, and ours, be made of such memory that will be handed down to our descendants from age to worthy age.”
By downplaying the sensationalism of the story—seduction and murder—the character of Judith has been revered as the mother of the Hebrews, in Wosk’s words, “as if it was she who had given birth to all she had saved.”
Judith is Hebrew for Jewish woman. Betulia in Hebrew is virginity. As depicted by Broca and articulated by Wosk, it was Judith’s virtuous self-discipline that triumphed over the excess and debauchery of Holofernes as much as it was her beauty.
Judith is shown meeting the town’s elders, praying in the desert. She is not a voluptuous assassin; instead she has a modest demeanor when she displays her trophy. In this way, devoutness, chastity, ingenuity and courage are celebrated.
Around 2002, Lilian Broca starting importing high quality glass from Orsoni in Venice. For her depiction of the story of Judith, Broca has opted for the Baroque style of the seventeenth century to better incorporate the theatrical gestures and emotional expressions of the heroine.
The subject matter of Heroine of A Thousand Pieces was suggested to Broca by Adolfo D. Roitman, curator of the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, who has contributed an introductory chapter on theological themes. Other contributers to the book are Sheila Campbell, Angela Clarke, with a foreward by Rosa Graci.