Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chess and Art -- Again

The above illustrations are all taken from Tarbut iillustrated encyclopedia [Tarbut,2nd ed. [1963], Tel Aviv: Masada], the Israeli version of the Italian Conoscere encyclopedia, which also published versions in other countries, with local material added -- i.e., in the Israeli version, articles about Jewish history, Israeli geography, etc.

The Italian source of encyclopedia, by the way, solves the long-standing mystery many of my generation wondered about as children in Israel, namely, why the encyclopedia has so many articles about Italy and, in particular, about the Roman Empire.

They are from two articles: "The Royal Game", pp. 2351-2352, and "Jews in Chess", pp. 2356-2358, both in vol. 13, with -- of course -- the Jewish players' illustrations coming from the latter article. It might be hard to recognize Tal, and to wonder why Steinitz became blond and blue-eyed. Poor Capablanca has a rather toad-like appearance, while Alekhine too became a blond-haired man.

How can such an artistic disaster occur? The Hebrew-language Wikipedia article about Tarbut notes the Hebrew edition used the same Italian artists of the Italian edition, even for articles especially printed for the Israeli edition. In translated Italian articles, the original art was quite good. But it seems that in Israeli-only articles -- not only the chess articles, but also those about, say, the Israeli philharmonic Orchestra or the Ha'Shomer, the pre-state paramilitary Zionist organization, to note two examples from the same volume -- were illustrated differently.

The Italian illustrators were apparently asked to color black-and-white photographs, presumably sent to them by the editors of the Israeli edition, with color choice left to their imagination. Clearly this was the case in the chess articles in particular, where the illustrations are all from well-known black-and-white photos.

Not only did the illustrators often get the colors wrong, but coloring small black-and-white photographs didn't sit well with their usual [and, to those of my generation, instantly recognizable] bold, colorful gouache paintings, a medium not suitable for picking up small details from photographs or making fine distinctions in shades of color.

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