Two of Marc Chagall's most famous paintings, Me and My Village (1911) and Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers (1912-13) represent the artist's early attempts to incorporate Cubism with its multiple points of view and geometrical shapes into his compositions. So, too, are these two paintings emblematic of the expatriate condition of the traditional Jew in the modern world.

Chagall (1887-1985) grew up in the Belarusian village of Vitebsk, the eldest son of a Hassidic laborer. While he spent most of his life in France, he never stopped returning to Vitebsk in his mind and in his art. In Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers two landscapes hover above the painter, the modernity of Paris meeting the timelessness of Vitebsk.

In Study for Self Portrait with Seven Fingers, Chagall presents us with the Jewish fascination with numbers. Art historian Sandor Kuthy suggests that the Yiddish folk expression Mit alle zibn finger, used to indicate the entirety of energy used in completion of a task, explains this strange physical anomaly in the painting.

Writes art student Marleene Rubenstein, "An enriched reading is gained in knowing that the number seven is heavy with mystical overtones in Jewish expression, figuring strongly with the concept of creation. God created the world in seven days. The Kabbalah states that God created seven parallel universes to our physical one. The three fathers and the four mothers in the Bible gave birth to the Jewish nation. With his seven fingers, Chagall creates new worlds with paint on canvas."[*]

Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers was Chagall's first self-portrait. It was painted in his first Paris studio at La Ruche, Montparnasse where he and 200 fellow artists lived in total squalor. The painting is now shown in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

[*] Marleene Rubenstein, "Searching for the Second Soul: The Hasidic Etymology of the Early Visual Language of Marc Chagall" from paper written in response to Professor Karen Kleinfelder's university course, Twentieth Century Art to 1945



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