Parshat Noach

Ink, acrylic, watercolor on parchment, 2015

Artist: Ilene Winn-Lederer,  USA

At first glance, the images in this interpretation appear as a prosaic and straightforward illustration of the story of Noach, his ark and the Deluge. Upon further examination, however, other elements emerge that suggest  multiple levels of meaning with regard to our environment, Jewish history and the moral codes embedded in Torah.

Noach and his wife Na’amah flank the central figure of the Shekhinah who holds a flaming sword and an olive branch. These items signify the attributes of Justice and Mercy — in Hebrew tzedakah and rachamim — which are two of the three pillars that support the metaphysical Tree of Life. Suspended from her ears are the initials of those Hebrew words. Her veil covers only one eye, teaching that judgment and mercy must objectively temper each other. The double eagle on her crown underscores this duality, as the underlying theme for the book of Noach.

I’ve portrayed Noach and Na’amah as the dignified ancient couple they might have been, since legend suggests they had passed their 600th year at the time of this story. They are clothed in the Sumerian style reflecting Noach’s legendary association with Utnapishtim, the Babylonian flood hero. He is holding a model of the ark and wears a belt fitted with carpentry tools that were used in this era. Na’amah carries a clay birdcage containing a dove, whose mate will be sent to scout for dry land after Noach’s raven fails to return. The cage is based on one found at Harappa, in the Indus Valley, an ancient city dating back to 3300 BCE. When Noach’s ark is generally depicted, it is shown with a large collection of animal couples as detailed in the parashah. However, for economy of design, I felt that including just a few of those species would suffice to tell the story.

Finally, as the dark sky above the figures portends the coming supernatural storm, I have imagined its shape as suggestive of the mountain peaks of Ararat, the mountain formation in Turkey that may or not be the place where the ark came to rest. As such, it can be seen as an abstract symbol of hope with which humanity has been gifted to guide us through the best and worst that life has to offer.

About Ilene


Pittsburgh-based Ilene Winn-Lederer creates original art & books published under her imprint, Imaginarius Editions. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago & The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.  Ilene is also the author & illustrator of Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009)


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