"A PEN OF FLAMING FIRE ON THE CROWN OF GOD": SIGNED LIMITED FIRST EDITION OF ALPHABET OF THE CREATION, 1954, ONE OF ONLY 500 COPIES SIGNED BY ARTIST BEN SHAHN
SHAHN, Ben. The Alphabet of Creation. An Ancient Legend from the Zohar. New York: Pantheon [Spiral Press], (1954). Tall octavo (6-3/4 by 10-1/2 inches), original gilt- and red-stamped natural cloth, uncut, original slipcase. $750.
Signed limited first edition of a legend from the Sefer Ha-Zohar, a foundational work of the Jewish Kabbalah, number 237 of only 500 copies signed by Shahn (total of 550), with over 40 illustrations from original drawings including his calligraphic images of the alphabet, in original slipcase.
A "masterpiece of the Kabbalah, the Sefer ha-Zohar has amazed and overwhelmed readers since it emerged mysteriously in medieval Spain toward the end of the 13th century" (Daniel C. Matt). In Judaism's "passage of revealed truth from the divine to man, the Zohar ranked second only to Torah and Talmud." This elegant volume, containing a seminal legend from the Sefer ha-Zohar, was conceived and illustrated by Shahn, "one of America's outstanding Jewish artists… freely adapted by him from the English translation of Maurice Samuel and other sources," Alphabet of Creation tells "how the 22 letters of the alphabet are engraved with a pen of flaming fire on the crown of God, whence they descend, one by one and page by page, to stake their claims in the Creation… Shahn's pictures run through a generous iconographic range. There is a hand of God amidst an undulent morphology of wave or cloud.. a tablet-flaunting Moses—horned in accordance with the Greek and Latin mistranslations of a Hebrew text (Ex. 34:29); and the face of the Merciful, rendered like a modern victim of merciless persecution." Shahn's bold letters "make up an invented paleography, wrung from the deep as it were… like a swath of weary energy pushed through a hindering medium" (Commentary). Printed on Rives paper by Joseph Blumenthal at Spiral Press, this signed limited first edition consists of numbers 1-50 with an original drawing, and 500 numbered 51-500. Without very scarce glassine. Castleman, 109.
Only trace of edge-wear to slipcase. A fine uncut copy.