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Hugo Ballin's Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Wilshire Boulevard Temple - The Inquisition

  • In Magnin's Words
  • Allegory and History
  • Source/Citations

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin described Ballin's murals in a book published in 1974:
"A cathedral tower and a portal. Figure of terror in the sky riding upon a gruesome beast which breathes fire. He is pointing his destructive lance toward the Jews who are being driven out of the town and crossing a bridge on their journey over the world. Their houses are burning."

In this portion of the mural, Ballin uses a large allegorical figure to represent the "terror" of the Inquisition. Ballin painted the Spanish town and Cathedral in the scene with incredible accuracy and detail, but the human figures at the bottom of the scene are small and crudely drawn. The focus of this piece instead is on this terrifying specter of evil and oppression riding on a "gruesome," demonic creature, the town-scape merely a backdrop to his murderous campaign. He uses gold leaf to draw the viewers' eyes to the fires below and bright colors around the specter's face to draw attention to his frightening gaze. He choses not to depict a realistic scene of forceful conversion or a trial for heresy, but rather composed an image in which the Inquisitors themselves were entirely absent. The choice suggests that Ballin wanted his viewers to see the Inquisition not as a phenomena specific to Spain or a byproduct of specific historical conditions but instead as a manifestation of pure evil and terror, a universal problem faced by Jews throughout history and, perhaps, a specter of evil that could strike again if Jews did not remain vigilant.

Caption from Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin's book, The Warner Murals in the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles, California, published by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 1974.

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