ASKNAZI, ISAAC LVOVICH:
By: Herman Rosenthal
Russian painter; born at Drissa Jan. 28, 1856; died Dec. 21, 1902, at Moscow. He entered the St. Petersburg Academy in 1870 as a day-scholar, and was registered as a student in 1874. In the latter year he was awarded the second silver medal for a sketch, and in 1875 the silver medal for a drawing. In 1877 he received the first silver medal for a sketch, and the second gold medal for a study, "Abraham Expelling Hagar with Her Son Ishmael." Asknazi was awarded in 1879 a silver medal for a sketch, "The Publican and the Pharisee," and the first gold medal for a study, "The Woman Taken in Adultery." "The Publican" represents the Pharisees surrounding Jesus, as pious, God-fearing Jews, each wrapped in a "ṭallit" and with head-ornaments ("tefillin"). For this work the artist was granted a traveling scholarship for four years to enable him to complete his studies.
Before his departure from St. Petersburg in May, 1880, Asknazi completed his painting "The Wife of the Marano." This work he left with the academy for exhibition at the Art Exposition in Moscow; but it was first exhibited at the St. Petersburg Academy in 1881, under the changed title "In Prison." The alteration of title was probably due to the anti-Jewish riots of 1881, at which period the authorities did not consider it politic to bring the martyrdom of a Jewess before the eyes of the public.Influence of Hans Makart.
In November, 1880, Asknazi, on his way to Italy, visited the galleries and studios of the capitals of Austria and Germany. While in Vienna he began his painting "Maria of Egypt Reflecting upon the Sins of Her Life," and his sketches "John the Baptist in Prison," "John the Baptist's Head on the Charger," and "The Poet Jehuda Halevi," after Heine's well-known poem. Here he profited greatly by the advice of Hans Makart, who admired his talent and took a great interest in his art. In December Asknazi arrived in Rome, where he began his painting "Moses, the Shepherd of Jethro, in the Desert," which, together with "John the Baptist's Head," he sent in June, 1885, to the St. Petersburg Academy, and for which he was granted the degree of Academician of Arts. Both pictures were exhibited at the exposition of the academy in 1886; the latter picture being purchased by the academy, and "Moses" by the wellknown collector and art-patron S. M. Tretiakov, of Moscow. At the same exposition four other paintings by Asknazi were exhibited: "Playing Dice," a picture of two Italian boys; "Snow and Frost," representing a thinly clad and shivering Italian boy; "Head of an Italian Woman," and "A Woman Knitting." All four paintings show the influence of the old Italian masters on Asknazi's work.Influence of Oppenheimer.
In 1886 Asknazi exhibited in St. Petersburg "The Old Shoemaker"; in 1887, "Bad News," a picture ofJewish life, and the "Portrait of L. P."; and in 1888, "Sabbath Eve," representing a Jewess praying over the Sabbath tapers. This latter painting merits description here. The light of the candles, mingled with the twilight, illuminates the table with its snowwhite cloth. The emblematic buds and flowers embossed on the Sabbath lamps are reflected on the shining surface of the stove. The attitude of the woman, clad in her holiday dress; the expression of her face, full of devotion and piety; and every detail of the painting—all suggest the glory of the approaching day of rest. In this work the influence of Oppenheimer is distinctly noticeable. The picture was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, and is now (1902) in the St. Louis (Mo.) Museum of Art.His "Jewish Wedding."
In 1890 Asknazi produced "The Bridegroom Examined by the Rabbi." A young Talmudist is being examined by the rabbi in the presence of the future father-in-law and mother-in-law. He is clad in a long coat, after the old Polish fashion; and two long curls, hanging down from under his cap, encircle his pale face. He seems to be quite certain of success in this examination; yet it is evident that his heart is palpitating, and bashfulness is expressed on his face, he being aware that all his utterances and movements are closely watched by his future relatives, although the joy in their faces is proof of their great satisfaction as the examination nears its end. Asknazi exhibited with this painting "Old Age" and "The Female Friends." In 1891 he painted "Amram and Jochebed, Parents of Moses." In 1892 he exhibited "Asking a Favor," "The Morning Call," and "In Hesitation," and in the following year "A Jewish Wedding." The wedding occurs in a small Polish-Russian town. The bridegroom, in a high hat, with a long overcoat, and the bride in a white dress, her head covered with a thin veil, are just coming out from under the canopy, accompanied by groomsmen, bridesmaids, and wedding-guests. The rabbi and the servant of the synagogue turn to the right, all the rest walking in the middle of the street. Preceding them are four Jewish musicians: an old cellist, another old man, evidently the leader of the band, playing the cymbal—a large kind of zither—and two young men, one playing the fiddle, the other, a retired soldier, playing the flute. The "badchan," or merrymaker, in front is directing the music; while the little sexton drives away the street-boys from the route of the procession. Especially effective are the merry faces of the three women that are dancing in the throng. Other paintings of this same period are: "Youth and Old Age" and "The Last in Church."
In 1897 Asknazi produced "The Cellist," representing a handsome old man with a violoncello between his feet, sitting in the middle of a luxuriously furnished room, and playing from notes lying open on a magnificently carved stand. The strong light thrown on the figure, the richness of the furniture, the graceful face of the attentive old musician, all produce a striking effect. In 1898 Asknazi exhibited: "Boy Preparing His Lesson," "Housewife Grinding Coffee," and "Over the Last Crumbs"; and in 1899, the portraits of the architect A. Hammerschmidt, of Miss P., and of I. Rabbinovicz, the translator of the Talmud into French."Kohelet."
Asknazi's latest and best work is "Ecclesiastes" or "Kohelet," which was exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1900. It represents Kohelet ben David, king of Jerusalem, sitting on his throne, lost in the dismal thought, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Kohelet's face expresses complete resignation: he has evidently no solution for the difficult question, "What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?" Lonely sits the king, long deserted by his children, to whom he had said, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee," etc. But two loyal servants from his body-guard and his secretary remain with him, bound to him by genuine affection. They are paying the closest attention to every whisper coming from his mouth. The secretary is writing down on a tablet the utterances of the wise king; and the servants, lying on the floor near the throne and leaning on their elbows, are looking at the king, who relates to them episodes of his life.
Asknazi is considered to be the most devout Jew among the Russo-Jewish painters. While at the Academy of St. Petersburg, he was the only student who was excused by the authorities from working on the Jewish Sabbath and on holidays. Most of his paintings deal with Jewish life and history; and on several occasions the authorities of the academy made him feel their dissatisfaction with his pronounced emphasis of national Judaism.
- Bulgakov, Nashi Khudozhniki, i.;
- Sobko, Leksikon Russkikh Khudozhkikov, s.v.;
- Vyestnik Izyashchnykh Iskusstv, 1886, v. 418-419;
- Niva, 1892, No. 16;
- Report of the, St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts for 1873-96;
- Catalogue of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts for 1881-93;
- David Maggid, Asknazi in Sefer Hashanah, Warsaw, 1901, pp. 65-72.