Moses Jacob Ezekiel was born in Richmond, Virginia. He fought as a Confederate cadet and graduated from Virginia Military Institute. The only well-known American sculptor to see combat in the Civil War, he was commissioned to create the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery. Ezekiel worked in a classical style based on his studies in Berlin and Rome, where he lived from 1879 until his death. He typically chose the human figure as the central image of his art and is best known for historical and allegorical subjects.
Israel is a symbolic work based on the story of The Wandering Jew, which describes the suffering the Jewish people throughout their long history. The central figure is Israel Crucified, with an upraised arm and nailed hand. His head is turned in a gesture of blessing toward Hopeful Israel on the right. Israel Crucified is reminiscent of traditional imagery of the crucifixion of Christ—sad, suffering, and in tangible pain. In contrast, Israel Hopeful is resurgent, virile, and unconquered. The reclining male figure behind Israel Crucified is Israel of Despair, who weeps and laments, his head bowed in the dust of his humiliation. The female figure on the left is wearing a crown of Jerusalem. She represents Israel’s Patience and noble womanhood.
In 1873 Ezekiel received the coveted Prix de Rome for Israel. When the artist wrote of this work in response to comments about its controversial symbolism, he stated: “In the religion of art there are no creeds; there is but one article of faith, the service of beauty. Art is the solvent of prejudices.”
Israel will be one of three works in the Cincinnati Skirball collection featured in the upcoming exhibition Spotlight on Moses Jacob Ezekiel and His Circle, opening March 20. The intimate display highlights a recent gift to the Museum of a bronze relief, works on paper, and Ezekiel’s sculpting tools as well as oils and watercolors by his circle of friends.