Today is the birthday (1887) of Marc Zakharovich Chagall, Russian-French artist. He is well known as a Jewish artist (though Chagall saw his work as “not the dream of one people but of all humanity”). His paintings reflect his childhood in Vitebsk (now in Belarus), and, among other things, inspired the tragicomic musical Fiddler on the Roof.
Chagall was associated with several major artistic styles and created works in virtually every artistic medium, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints. Using stained glass, he produced windows for the cathedrals of Reims and Metz, for the UN, and the Jerusalem Windows in Israel. He also did large-scale paintings, including part of the ceiling of the Paris Opéra.
Before World War I, he traveled between St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin. During this period he created his own mixture and style of modern art based on his memories of Eastern European Jewish folk culture. He spent the wartime years in Soviet Belarus, becoming one of the country’s most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde, founding the Vitebsk Arts College before leaving again for Paris in 1922.
He had two basic reputations: as a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist. He experienced modernism’s “golden age” in Paris, where he embraced and combined Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism, in which his own vision was a major factor in the development of Surrealism.” Most emphatically Chagall’s work is about color – using a limited palate to create startling colorful visions “When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is”.
According to art historian Raymond Cogniat, in all Chagall’s work during all stages of his life, it was his colors which attracted and captured the viewer’s attention. During his earlier years his range was limited by his emphasis on form and his pictures never gave the impression of painted drawings. He adds, “The colors are a living, integral part of the picture and are never passively flat, or banal like an afterthought. They sculpt and animate the volume of the shapes… they indulge in flights of fancy and invention which add new perspectives and graduated, blended tones… His colors do not even attempt to imitate nature but rather to suggest movements, planes and rhythms.” He was able to convey striking images using only two or three colors. Cogniat writes, “Chagall is unrivalled in this ability to give a vivid impression of explosive movement with the simplest use of colors…” Throughout his life his colors created a “vibrant atmosphere” which was based on “his own personal vision.”
Chagall’s work is, indeed, highly personal and idiosyncratic; impossible to classify even though many try. Here’s a gallery – mostly about color. I used to have prints of some of these on my walls.
Lazanki is a popular dish in Chagall’s home town of Vitebsk, and in Belarus in general (as well as Poland). Lazanki arrived in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-16th century when Bona Sforza, Italian wife of King Sigismund I the Old, brought high Italian cuisine to the country. Unlike most Italian dishes in these parts of Europe, lazanki has survived into the 21st century, although the long and cultural history of the dish has been largely forgotten.
Lazanki consists of pieces of dough made from wheat, buckwheat, or rye flour. Basically speaking, Belarusian lazanki and Italian lasagna come from the same roots. Traditionally they are squares or triangles made from flattened tough dough, which are boiled and then served with fried lard and onions on top. During Lent, Belarusians once put ground poppy seeds or mashed berries into the dough. Lazanki were also baked in pots together with meat or cabbage and stewed with sour cream. My preferred method.
rye or wheat flour
salt and sugar to taste
70g smoked-cooked pork brisket
100g semi-smoked sausages (“hunter’s sausages”)
1 medium-sized onion
50-70g cream or sour cream
50g grated hard cheese
The dough for lazanki is very much the same as for most pasta (see Hints tab). Sift flour on to a work surface, make a hollow it in, add salt and sugar, and a little bit of vegetable oil for elasticity. Pour water on the flour slowly and mix with your hands until you have a ball that is not sticky and can be kneaded. Knead the dough until it gets hard and flexible.
Roll out the dough to about 1-1.5mm thick, then cut it into triangles or diamonds. Let it dry a bit at room temperature.
Put the lazanki in salted boiling water for 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Dice the pork brisket and sauté it in a dry, heavy skillet until it browns and the fat melts. Add finely chopped onions and keep sautéing them until they brown to a golden color. Add the sausages in and sauté for another 3-4 minutes.
When the filling is ready, add the boiled lazanki with a small amount of water from the pan it was cooked in. Add the cream and cheese. Keep stirring the mix constantly while it is cooking. When the cheese becomes thick, remove the pan from the heat. You can serve it on the table straight from the pan, or in a heated serving dish garnished with green herbs. Dill is a good option.
Lazanki can also be baked (a better way, I think, but longer). Take a ceramic pot, put in the boiled lazanki and the filling one layer after another like making lasagna Add the cream and cheese and put it in the oven at 350°F until it is golden on top.