The Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection
The Abraham Schwadron Collection at the National Library is composed of two divisions: the Autograph Collection and the Portrait Collection. Alongside examples of signatures and original handwriting, the Portrait Collection, contains tens of thousands of profiles of more than 3,000 Jewish figures. Essentially, this is the biggest, and only, collection of its kind in the world of Jewish portraits. It is a sort of "National Gallery" of great figures from Jewish history. Abraham Schwadron, the man who founded this unique collection, wrote about his motivations for collecting the portraits:
"Just as every person, to whom feelings of admiration are not foreign, will be happy to know that the picture and handwriting or those dear and close to him are being preserved and will continue to exist, so certainly, it is important and pleasant […] to know the faces- the most intimate and personal remnant of these great people- to know, that they are being preserved and will continue to exist for a long time and for coming generations."
For more than 50 years, Abraham Schwadron worked diligently, collecting and registering hundreds of portraits, often by directly petitioning the figure from whom he requested the profile. After Schwadron's sudden death in 1957, the management of the National Library decided to continue to develop the collection. In the years that have passed since then, many hundreds of portraits have been added to the collection, and the National Library is continuing to collect and register them, to this day, while still preserving the original character of the collection.
Despite the desire to create a national collection, where there would be a place for Jewish figures from all eras, all over the world, in execution, the project encountered more than a few difficulties. The Biblical prohibition against the making of statues and images [of God] resulted in the fact that for many generations Jews avoided creating portraits, and starting from the middle of the 19th century, there were those who also avoided being photographed. Despite this, the collection includes many portraits of rabbis and Jewish figures starting from the 17th century onward. These prints are printed on a wide range of printing techniques, characteristic of the place and era in which they were created: engravings, woodcuts and sculptures, etc. In addition to these, the collection also includes a few drawings and oil paintings. Naturally, most of the portraits in the collection are photographs, and also in this case, a large number of photographic techniques are represented, for the most part black and white.
For more than 70 years the Schwadron Portrait Collection has been a source of inspiration for writers of biographies, lexicons, and encyclopedias all over the world. As this rich and unique collection is being uploaded to the internet, it can be expected that it will serve a growing audience of readers and browsers, who will be able to use it in the name of enriching human knowledge, for their own enjoyment and for the sake of future generations.