The Golem

David Aronson (American (born in Lithuania), 1923-2015)


Overall: 144.8 x 162.6 cm (57 x 64 in.) Lender Accessory (Frame): 157.5 x 175.3 cm

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Encaustic on panel

Not On View


Americas, Contemporary Art



Considered one of the major figures in the Boston Expressionist movement of the mid-twentieth century, David Aronson maintained a commitment to figural representation but took a subjective approach. While his compositions are not abstractions, his spaces are often flattened and forms distorted. His surfaces are rich and painterly, enhanced by his experiments with materials–not only oil and other media but also such ancient techniques as encaustic, in which pigments are mixed with heated wax. Using these tools, Aronson explored themes of human transformation throughout his career, first with subjects from the New Testament, later from the Old Testament, the Jewish cabala (marked by belief in creation through emanation) and Hasidism (a Jewish sect espousing joyful emotion and mysticism). Like most of the other Boston Expressionists, including Hyman Bloom and Jack Levine, Aronson came from an immigrant Jewish background that informed his work [see 52.574, 1990.370, 46.48, 1995.5].
In “The Golem,” Aronson depicted a sacred cabalistic ritual in which a rabbi creates a golem, an artificial creature in human form. The creature, formed from clay, comes to life when certain spells are made; golems act as the servants of their makers. Aronson chose to represent the best known of the golem legends, which featured the 16th century rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, who conjured such a being to protect the Jews of Prague from anti-Semitic acts. According to Aronson, the golem in his painting is in the process of coming alive: “While the apprentices properly adorned with amulets and charms chant magical incantations, the sorcerer in a state of ecstatic levitation, hovers over the figure of the emerging golem” (David Aronson, “Real and Unreal: The Double Nature of Art,” in David Aronson: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, Boston, Pucker Art Publications, 2004, p. 148). The painter conveys the mystical quality of this event through his use of an awkward, compressed space, the floating figure of the rabbi at left, and the contorted body of the golem, all set off by jewel-like color.
Aronson’s use of encaustic creates a warm, glowing surface. He learned to work with this medium from his teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Karl Zerbe, also a Boston Expressionist, but in addition Aronson had studied works by earlier artists to explore other techniques [for Zerbe see 1971.706, 1990.455, 1993.969]. With encaustic, Aronson noted, “The colors had the luminosity of stained glass and lent themselves effectively to the religious subjects…It allowed me to indulge myself in beautifully textured surfaces and richly pigmented colors…I sought the brushstroke and surface which had at the same time an Expressionist crudeness and directness and a Flemish finish and patina” (Aronson, 2004, p. 148). In “The Golem,” this melding of the modern in approach and the historic in subject and technique creates a composition of great power and exquisite craftsmanship.

Karen Quinn


From the artist to his children, Judith Aronson Webb, Ben Aronson N.A., and Abigail Aronson Zocher; 2006, gift of Judith Aronson Webb, Ben Aronson N.A., and Abigail Aronson Zocher to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 21, 2006)

Credit Line

Gift of Judith Aronson Webb, Ben Aronson N.A., and Abigail Aronson Zocher


© David Aronson