Paintings for Chanukah


December is not just about Christmas but also about the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. It is an eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights” which is celebrated with menorah lighting, prayers, and of course, some special foods. To honor this holiday and all those who celebrate it, today we present paintings by various Jewish Artists.


paintings for hanukkah: Marc Chagall, Jew at Prayer, 1913,
Marc Chagall, Jew at Prayer, 1913, private collection. Israel Museum Jerusalem.

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” because the holiday is named after the rededication of the Holy Temple in the 2nd century BCE, which took place after the Maccabean revolt against Greek oppressors. The small group of revolutionaries miraculously won the battle and after rededicating their temple to God, they needed to relight the eternal flame within it.

Engraving by Willem de Broen from the drawing of Bernard Picart, Eleazar sacrifices himself to bring down the elephant on which the king rides, 1711-1720, Rijskmuseum, the Netherlands.

However, they discovered there was only very small amount of oil left but they lit it anyway. It was then that this portion of oil, only enough for one night, burned for the eight following nights! Furthermore, this is significant because eight days is the amount if time needed to make more oil, to keep the eternal flame lit. Jews commemorate this miraculous event by lighting candles on a special candelabra called a menorah.

The Menorah

Hanukkah paintings: Amedeo Modigliani, The Jewish Woman, 1908
Amedeo Modigliani, The Jewish Woman, 1908, private collection. WikiArt.

A menorah holds nine candles, one of which is the shamash (the “attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On each night of the Chanukah, one additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled. The first menorah is mentioned in the Bible: Exodus 25:31-40 describes precisely the original menorah which is meant for the sanctuary Moses is to build for God, and which however is said to have seven branches, not nine. The nine candle menorah is only used for Chanukah, meanwhile the seven light menorah is used throughout the year to count the days of the week.

Marc Chagall, America Windows (far right panel), 1977, Art Institute of Chicago, © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

31 Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. 32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. 33 Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. (…)

37 Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. 38 Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. 39 A talenta] of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. 40 See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

Bible, Exodus 25:31-40. Bible Gateway.

The Food

Aleksander Gierymski, Jewess with Oranges, 1881, National Museum, Warsaw
Aleksander Gierymski, Jewess with Oranges, 1881, National Museum in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.

During the holiday it is customary to eat foods deep-fried in oil (symbolic of the oil miracle). For example, ‘latkes’ which are potato pancakes, often garnished with applesauce or sour cream, ‘loukoumades’ which are puffs dipped in honey or sugar to represent the cakes the Maccabees ate, or jelly-filled doughnuts called ‘sufganiyot’. These days, people also make pretzels and butter cookies in the shape of menorahs.

The Prayers

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, 531 Jew's House in Austria, 1962, KunstHausWien, Vienna, hanukkah paintings
Friedensreich Hundertwasser, 531 Jew’s House in Austria, 1962, KunstHausWien, Vienna, Austria.

During nightly prayers Jews offer praise and thanksgiving to God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few … the wicked into the hands of the righteous.” The candle lighting ritual also includes special blessings-  on the first night all three blessings are made, while on the rest of the nights only the first and second blessings are repeated. After the blessings are said, many Jews begin to eat and play. There is a classic game which involves a toy called dreidel which is a four-sided spinning top. It has a Hebrew letter on each side to represent the saying “a great miracle happened there”, referring to the miracle of the oil.

Chanukah Paintings

Max Liebermann, Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, 1905, hanukkah paintings
Max Liebermann, Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam, 1905, private collection. Google Arts & Culture.

When I first wrote this article in 2017, I did not find any paintings specifically relating to Chanukah. One of our readers suggested one to me that you can see below, by a female, Russian painter Marevna. However, one is not enough hence we’re still searching for more. If you know of a painting or any other artwork which relates to Chanukah, let us know! Here I’d also like to thank my proofreader Bec, thank you for help with menorahs!

Marie Vorobieff Marevna, Hasidic Dance during the Chanukah celebration
Marie Vorobieff Marevna, Hasidic Dance During the Chanukah Celebration, 1970, private collection. WikiArt.

Discover more paintings depicting celebrations and holidays:

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Paintings for Chanukah was first posted on December 11, 2020 at 5:00 pm.
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