From the time of Rubin's arrival in Czernowitz in 1919 until his first year in Palestine in 1923, Rubin's works are populated by figures of solitary, tormented, self-mortifying prophets. Yet rather than adopting the image of the prophet preaching to the people, often depicted in the works of Jewish artists, Rubin explored the idea of the prophet as an individual moved by a deeply personal relation with the divine. Some of the figures in his paintings are tragic biblical characters such as Job or Absalom; others are dramatic figures such as the prophet Elijah. Often they cannot be identified as specific biblical figures and only bear a general resemblance to a biblical prophet - for example, Rubin's self-portrait as a kind of prophet or ascetic standing at the top of a high mountain, his head bent in a state of introspection. These figures, placed in a world suffused by a spiritual atmosphere, reflect a bond between man and nature that recalls nineteenth-century Romantic landscape paintings such as those by Caspar David Friedrich. Rubin's paintings also display the influence of Ferdinand Hodler, the Symbolist painter whose works made a deep impression on him in 1915 when he saw them in Bern. Rubin's prophets are also subtly indebted to the dramatic figures of El Greco, as well as to the powerfully moving works of such important Jewish artists as Samuel Hirszenberg and Jakob Steinhardt.

In Elijah and the False Prophets, Rubin created a synthesis between two scenes from the life of Elijah: the description of the prophet putting his face between his knees after slaughtering the prophets of Ba`al, and the scene in which Elijah falls asleep beneath the juniper tree after fleeing Jezebel, the patron of the false prophets. One important element in the painting differs from the Biblical narrative: instead of a bull, Rubin placed a lamb inside a circle of stones, ready to be bound for sacrifice. Despite the importance accorded in Judaism to the lamb as a symbol of sacrifice, its presence in this painting is better explained as a reference to Jesus, the "lamb of God" (Agnus Dei), whose sacrifice will redeem humanity's sins and bring salvation. The young tree, a symbol of growth, springtime, and salvation, is combined with the lamb, symbolizing the suffering of the artist-prophet and the sacrifice which he must offer.

 

 

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