“The Scribe” is one the most symbolic and complicated paintings to come out of his Paris period, perhaps his whole career.
In it the scribe and his surroundings are the medium, and the tight, almost illegible Germanic script that he is penning, is the message. Szyk wrote the document himself, a commentary on the modern world and its relation to its medieval forbear, as he saw it from Paris in the 1920s.
But the cherubim aren’t inured from modernity, they hold aloft a dollar bill — an almost spoof-like image of a divine little bailout that reminds us of the different sensibilities that governed the modern and medieval eras.
“I think he’s saying, there’s things that are real, things that matter, and things that don’t,” continued Ungar. “He’s trying to say that both worlds exist and that somehow in this world, one has to negotiate and make a choice.”