Marc Chagall’s mosaic Four Seasons in Chicago, which is permanently installed outdoors in Chase Tower plaza, or Exelon plaza — the rectangular area bounded by Clark, Dearborn, Madison, and Monroe streets — is packed with symbolism. Those who are familiar with the works of the Russian Jewish artist, Chagall (1887 – 1985), particularly White Crucifixion (1938) which can be viewed at the Art Institute of Chicago, won’t be surprised to learn that the 14 x 70 x 10-foot mosaic features soaring animals thwarting gravity, lovers, musicians, laborers, a sailboat made out of a fish, a good number of donkeys, and what I would argue is a Wandering Jew.
The figure in question, who appears on one of the short ends of the four-sided mosaic, wears an orange shirt, blue pants and shoes (blue and orange are, after all complementary colors), a brown backpack, and some sort of hat (perhaps a skull cap?), and he carries a walking stick. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Wandering Jew — a mythical figure who derives from several different less-than-generous readings of Jewish involvement in hastening the Crucifixion — appears to surface in White Crucifixion as well.
Just as Chagall dressed the Jesus of his White Crucifixion in a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, in an effort to “own” the figure of Jesus as a Jew, he again represented the Wandering Jew, or Eternal Jew, matter-of-factly in Four Seasons despite the anti-Semitic implications of the symbol. The invocation of the Wandering Jew in the context of a work exploring the four seasons is particularly poignant, given the association of the seasons with the passage of time, and the mythological responsibility of the Wandering Jew to testify to Jesus’ authenticity in the End of Days.
The Eternal Jew is just one of many forms represented in the enormous mosaic. If you have questions or observations about any of the other ones, please leave a comment below.
A slideshow of the mosaic — which is made of colored glass and stone from Italy, France, Norway, Belgium, and Israel and was a gift to the people of Chicago dedicated on Sept. 27, 1974 — appears below, and it reflects a walk around the piece starting on the east side and then walking to the north, then west, then south sides.