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Chagall in Nice and Zürich

Nice, France

Learn about Marc Chagall’s mystical, dreamy artwork, which mixes floating figures and biblical themes with his Russian-folk-village youth, Jewish heritage, and love of nature. We visit the Chagall Museum in Nice and the Fraumünster in Zürich.

Complete Video Script

The Chagall Museum is nearby. Starting in the 1950s Mark Chagall painted a cycle of canvases designed for this building. Even if you’re suspicious of modern art, this museum — with the largest collection of Chagall’s work in captivity — is a delight. Seventeen Biblical scenes, make up the “nave,” or core, of what Chagall called the “House of Brotherhood.”

Each painting is a lighter-than-air collage of images inspired by Chagall’s Russian-folk-village youth, his Jewish heritage, biblical themes, and his feeling that he existed somewhere between heaven and earth.

Chagall paints a world that's hidden to the eye — the magical, mystical world below the surface. He blends Personal imagery, particularly from his childhood in Russia. The Hasidic Jewish perspective he absorbed as a child — that’s the idea that God is everywhere, in nature, animals, and everyday things. Gravity-defying compositions, with lovers, animals, and angels twirling blissfully in mid-air. And childlike simplicity — simple, heavy outlines, often spilling over with Crayola colors.

Chagall saw the Bible as a synonym for nature. His brilliant blues and reds celebrate nature, and its creator. His couples are enchanting. To Chagall, humans loving each other mirrored God’s love of creation. He wrote, “In art as well as in life, anything is possible, provided there is love.”

The city's art treasure is in its Fraumünster (or "Church of Our Lady"): a set of five towering stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. His inimitable painting style — deep colors, simple figures, and shard-like Cubism — is perfectly suited for the medium of stained glass.

The windows depict Bible scenes — here Jacob dreams of his ladder — the traffic of angels symbolizing the connection between God above and Jacob's descendants (the Children of Israel) below. Old Testament images — King David with his harp, Moses with the Ten Commandments, and the angel blowing the ram's horn to announce the creation of a new Jerusalem, all create a cohesive message drawing you to the central window. Here, a jumble of events from Christ's life leads to the central figure in God's plan of salvation – a crucified yet ascendant Jesus Christ.