Arts & Culture

The Largest Online Archive of Jewish Art

Lose an afternoon looking through hundreds of thousands of artifacts. Read More

By / October 18, 2017

In case you missed it: A couple of months ago, Hebrew University’s Center for Jewish Art launched its new online database, the Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art. No fee, no log-in— just go to the website, and you have access to over 260,000 images of Jewish art, from antiquity to modernity.

If you’re not salivating yet, you’re not a huge nerd, and shame on you. Just check out just a few of these gems:

This is a contemporary (2007) kiddush cup by an Israeli artist that looks like a chicken. What are you going to do with this? Make kiddush on matzo ball soup? Put on a little puppet show? Who knows! Either way, amazing:

Or, there’s nothing quite like an illuminated manuscript, straddling the line between beautifully surreal and absurd to the point of being silly. And of course, it wasn’t only monks going at it— the Index includes Jewish illuminated manuscripts, and at times they’re just as weird as their Christian counterparts:

WHAT IS THAT THING ON THE TOP? Some sort of centaur with a dragon head for a tail that really likes the music the reverse human top part plays, while an additional face sticks out of the chest? Here. For. It.

Not everything is funny, of course; there’s an entire section featuring cemeteries, a different kind of fascinating (this one, for example, is from 18th century Ukraine).

Plus, nearly half of the quarter-million images are related to architecture (“We cannot physically preserve all Jewish buildings everywhere, but we can preserve them visually through documentation and drawings,” said Dr. Vladmir Levin, the Center for Jewish Art’s director, in a statement).

The database does have a search function, but it’s more fun to just lose yourself in a hole, classic Internet-surfing style. There are detailed descriptions of every entry to provide context.

So, choose your poison. Beautiful early twentieth century painting of Jewish life? Medieval interpretations of Biblical stories? Modern sculpture of the very same story (you can compare them!)? More blueprints than you can shake a lulav at?

Work can wait. See you in several hours.

Images courtesy the Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art