Bezalel Workshop, School & Museum


Boris Schatz and Students, Sculpture Class ca. 1914

Boris Schatz and Students, Sculpture Class ca. 1914

Schatz's supporters in Berlin formed a committee called the "Bezalel Society for Establishing Jewish Cottage Industries and Crafts in Palestine" whose primary goal was to oversee the creation of a network of artisan workshops. These were meant to provide employment for the impoverished Jews of Ottoman-ruled Jerusalem by producing goods for local tourists as well as for export to the Jews of the Diaspora. The first workshop to open its doors was the carpetweaving department in 1906, followed by workshops for metalwork, ceramics, woodcarving, basketry, lithography, and photography.


With few students and fewer qualified teachers, the school in its early years was particularly prone to setbacks in its development. Schatz's position as the only teacher of drawing, painting, and sculpture for nearly three years ensured that his artistic preferences and taste served as the primary influence for Bezalel students. The close connection between the school and the workshops was quite evident and the emphasis on decorative arts was clearly manifested in the curriculum. A student's typical day included at least two hours of practice in one of the workshop disciplines. Hebrew was taught six hours a week, alongside classes in art history, perspective, and anatomy.


Postcard Shmuel Ben-David (1884–1927) Published in a postcard album by Yaakov Ben-Dov, 1926  Private Collection

Shmuel Ben-David (1884–1927)
Published in a postcard album by Yaakov Ben-Dov, 1926

Private Collection

Schatz began collecting materials for a museum as soon as he arrived in Palestine. Opened to the public in 1912, the museum featured native flora and fauna that Schatz hoped would serve as inspiration for the students and artisans. It also included an ethnographic and archaeological division comprising locally discovered artifacts and traditional Jewish ritual objects. Finally, there was a small fine arts section for which Schatz assiduously sought out works created by Jewish artists or depicting Jewish themes. Mordechai Narkiss, a student of Schatz's, served as head of the museum from the mid 1920s until his death in 1957. Under his leadership the collection expanded to international dimensions and incorporated objects as diverse as African art and Renaissance drawings. In 1965, the collections of the Bezalel Museum became the core of the newly founded Israel Museum.

Boris Schatz

Boris (Zalman Dov Baruch) Schatz was born to a traditional Jewish family in a small village near Kovno, Lithuania, and as a young man pursued religious studies in Vilna. It was there that Schatz first engaged with the two ideals that would permanently impact his life: art and Zionism. Dividing his days between yeshiva and art school, Schatz also joined a local Zionist group. He continued his art studies in Warsaw and Paris, enjoying a moderate level of artistic success as a sculptor.

In 1895, at the invitation of the King of Bulgaria, Schatz relocated to Sofia, where he taught at the Art Academy and became enmeshed in the project to create a national Bulgarian artistic identity. Schatz left Bulgaria in 1903 after his wife abandoned him for one of his students. That same year, the Kishinev pogrom roiled the entire Jewish world and pushed many into a strong embrace of Zionist ideology. In Schatz, it rekindled a Jewish consciousness that was reflected in his artistic production, now greatly expanded by the use of Jewish themes and characters.

During the years he spent in Bulgaria, Boris Schatz was particularly impressed by the development of home industries for the production of art. He reasoned that if Bulgaria, a small agricultural nation, could maintain a school with numerous departments for the development and commercial distribution of arts and crafts, a similar model could work for Jewish pioneers in Palestine. The dream of creating a new Jewish artistic ethos in the Land of Israel led Schatz to travel to Vienna in 1904 and seek out the blessing of the founder and leader of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl. Following Herzl's death later that year, Schatz re-presented his idea to several leading Zionists in Berlin who assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.

Schatz arrived in Palestine in early 1906, accompanied by only two teachers and two students. He immediately embarked on the daunting tasks of recruiting students, finding an appropriate building, and creating workshops. In the coming years, the school would grow to encompass numerous instructional departments, dozens of craft workshops, and a museum, all under the rubric "Bezalel."

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is Israel's national school of art. Established in 1906 by Jewish artist and sculptor Boris Schatz, Bezalel is Israel's oldest institution of higher education. The art created by Bezalel's students and professors in the early 1900s is considered the springboard for Israeli visual arts in the 20th century.

Bezalel is currently located at the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with the exception of the Architecture department, which is housed in the historic Bezalel building in downtown Jerusalem. In 2009 it was announced that Bezalel will be relocated to a new campus in the Russian Compound, as part of a municipal plan to revive Jerusalem's downtown. The new Bezalel campus is planned by the Tokyo-based award-winning architectural firm SANAA.

The Bezalel School was founded in 1906 by Boris Schatz, who envisaged the creation of a national style of art blending classical Jewish/Middle Eastern and European traditions. The school opened in rented premises on Ethiopia Street. It moved to a complex of buildings constructed in the 1880s surrounded by a crenelated stone wall, owned by a wealthy Arab. In 1907, the property was purchased for Boris Schatz by the Jewish National Fund. Schatz lived on the campus with his wife and children.[1] Bezalel's first class consisted of 30 young art students from Europe who successfully passed the entrance exam. Eliezer Ben Yehuda was hired to teach Hebrew to the students, who hailed from various countries and had no common language.[2] His wife, Hemda Ben-Yehuda, worked as Boris Schatz's secretary.[3]

In addition to traditional sculpture and painting, the school offered workshops that produced decorative art objects in silver, leather, wood, brass, and fabric. Many of the craftsmen were members of the Yemenite Jewish community, which has a long tradition of working in precious metals, as silver- and goldsmithing had been traditional Jewish occupations in Yemen. Yemenite immigrants were also frequent subjects of Bezalel artists.

Many of the students went on to become well-known artists, among them Meir Gur Aryeh, Ze'ev RabanShmuel Ben DavidYa'ackov Ben-DovZeev Ben-ZviJacob EisenbergJacob PinsJacob Steinhardt and Hermann Struck [4]

In 1912, Bezalel had one female student, Marousia (Miriam) Nissenholtz, who used the pseudonym Chad Gadya.[5]

Bezalel closed in 1929 in the wake of financial difficulties. After Hitler's rise to power, Bezalel's board of directors asked Joseph Budko who had fled Germany in 1933, to reopen it and serve as its director.[6] The New Bezalel School for Arts and Crafts opened in 1935, attracting many teachers and students from Germany, many of them from the Bauhaus school shut down by the Nazis.[7] Budko recruited Jakob Steinhardt and Mordecai Ardon to teach at the school, and both succeeded him as directors.[8]

In 1958, the first year that the prize was awarded to an organization, Bezalel won the Israel Prize for painting and sculpture.[9]

In 1969, Bezalel became a state-supported institution. In 1975 it was recognized by the Council for Higher Education in Israel as an institute of higher education.[10] It completed its relocation to Mount Scopus in 1990.

Bezalel developed a distinctive style of art, known as the Bezalel school, which portrayed Biblical and Zionist subjects in a style influenced by the European jugendstil (art nouveau) and traditional Persian and Syrian art. The artists blended "varied strands of surroundings, tradition and innovation," in paintings and craft objects that invokes "biblical themes, Islamic design and European traditions," in their effort to "carve out a distinctive style of Jewish art" for the new nation they intended to build in the ancient Jewish homeland.[11]

In 2006, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design celebrated its 100th anniversary. Today, it is located on Mount Scopus in Jerusalemand has 1,500 students. Faculties include Fine ArtsArchitectureCeramic Design, Industrial DesignJewelryPhotographyVisual CommunicationAnimationFilm, and Art History & Theory. The architecture campus is in downtown Jerusalem, in the historic Bezalel building. Bezalel offers Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.), Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.), Bachelor of Design (B.Des.) degrees, a Master of Fine Arts in conjunction with Hebrew University, and two different Master of Design (M.des) degrees.

The academy has plans to move back to the city center.[12]