In “The Scribe,” an elaborate piece painted in Paris in 1927, Szyk depicts a man dressed in medieval garb, sitting at a draftsman table and clutching a calligraphy pen. It all looks very Middle Ages, yet Szyk throws in a few jolting 20th-century references, such as a faux Picasso painting in the background.
The picture is a mash-up of modern and medieval “as if to show the world of the Renaissance is bumping against modernity,” Ungar notes. “You have planes and automobiles, two cherubs holding up the U.S. dollar.”
The medieval tropes fit right in with the Szyk approach. Adds Ungar: “During his lifetime, people said [Szyk] was the greatest illuminator in the style of the 16th century, illuminating text like monks in the Middle Ages.”