As fall looms, incoming college freshmen might consider warming their cold dorm room walls with a reproduction of the painting I and the Village by Marc Chagall. For any lonely soul who has ever missed home, this painting from 1911 will reverberate with warm lyricism.
Chagall painted this evocation of self and home in France, far from his chilly childhood village in Russia, and he filled his fractured picture with otherworldly details—a pearly-eyed, green-faced man holding a bouquet; a sympathetic sheep creature; an upside-down floating violinist.
Yet the picture remains tethered to the sensual world too. Vignettes include a peasant in traditional garb trudging uphill, scythe in hand, and a woman kneeling to milk a goat. I can see the onion domes and humble homes of the Russian village in the background, and I first thought Chagall might be the green-faced man, until I noticed the beaded cross necklace—Chagall was Jewish.
So where is Chagall in his self-portrait? Even though the painting is titled I and the Village, Chagall doesn't seem to make a cameo, in the tradition of painters like Rembrandt, the woolly-haired one in blue, and Jacopo Pontormo—seen here smiling wistfully, stage right in a biblical deposition scene.
All of these images illuminate a world living only in memory and emotion. Chagall seems to say that at the end of the night, we have only our memories. In today's world, it's common to leave home in search of knowledge and enlightenment. But, gently, Chagall reminds us that we are much more than just our solitary selves. We are also the places we call home, however far away.