James Jacques Jospeh Tissot (1836-1902), 'Building the Tower of Babel,' c. 1896-1901, gouache on board, 8 1/8 x 11 3/4 in, The Jewish Museum, New York. Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff. This work has been temporarily loaned to the Museum as part of the exhibition
Prophets, Priests, and Queens: James Tissot's Men and Women of the Old Testament.
This ambitious panorama operates at a macro-level: the intertwining ramps—every other is traversed either up or down –shorten the distance to the top, but also ascends at twice the interlocking pitch! Only two of this crew have yet to acquire their beards, yet each seems capable and confident, spurred on by tower’s immanent completion. Beasts of burden rather than some primordial wheels provide the legwork once the bricks are loaded. There are no old men loading their hods nor stacking their bricks. The workers are sinewy and capable . . . and filled with hubris. Smoke from the massive kilns ascends as a counterpoint to the tower’s impressive pitch. Little do these collegial workmen know that at any moment their comrades will find themselves cut off from their own vernacular communications and cultures. Indeed, those who previously shared a linguistic heritage will suddenly and inexplicably be rendered foreigners. Many millennia later, the construction of Babel’s tower still defines human hubris and God’s omnipotent judgment.