3 Cool Things You Might Not Know about Chagall’s United Nations Peace Window, 1964

Chagall, Marc. “Peace.” 1964, restored 2001. UN Building, NYC, NY.

Today is the United Nations World Humanitarian Day. Please take a minute to watch this video by Beyonce, this year’s spokesperson, to learn more and join me in taking time today to do something good for someone else and make the world a kinder place: http://www.whd-iwashere.org/

WHD commemorates those who lost their lives in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Today, we’re featuring a piece that also memorializes people who gave their lives while helping others. In 1964, Marc Chagall gave the UN a stained glass window he created entitled “Peace” to honor the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjøld and 15 others who died in a plane crash on September 17, 1961 while on their way to broker a cease-fire in the Congo. Hammarskjøld was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts. The 11.7 x 17.7 foot window can be seen in the Visitors Lobby of the UN Building in New York.

1. Music and text inspired Chagall in creating the window’s scheme. Symbols evoke Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a favorite piece of Hammarskjøld, and imagery is drawn directly from a passage in the New Testament. The passage, Isaiah IX 1-6, concludes with the following words: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

2. The contours of a central tree divide the window into two halves. The left half depicts a peaceful and joyous universe in which naked human beings and animals float about at random. The infamous snake is visible near the base of the tree. The right half’s action is more directed: a teeming mass crowds toward a figure of the crucified Christ in the upper right-hand corner. They come from a walled city to the left (visible in the upper third of the window), above which an angel with golden wings floats down to deliver the 10 Commandments. Lower down, a woman draped in a red cloak bows to the tree in grief, and a tiny baby, perhaps with a self-portrait face of Chagall, waves out to the spectator of the window.

3. Marc Chagall was an extremely prolific Russo-Jewish artist, who produced some 10,000 works in his 98 years of life. He once said “A day without painting is not a real day for me.” Born Moishe Shagal in 1887, he moved to France in 1910 and became part of the School of Paris, a loose affiliation that captures the international involvement in Paris’s booming art scene in the first four decades of the 20th century. The School encompassed numerous styles, such as Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism, and involved many other renowned members, including Picasso, de Chirico, and Brancusi.  During Chagall’s first stay in Paris, from 1910-14, he lived in a studio in Montparnasse nest to Modigliani.  He returned to Russia, but upon exile from the USSR in 1923, he came back to Paris and was a preeminent leader of the School in the 20s and 30s, mixing elements of these pioneering artistic movements with his own sense of multiculturalism to create a truly unique style.