web analytics
May 29, 2015 / 11 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Books »

Title: Rembrandt’s Jews

Title: Rembrandt’s Jews
Author: Steven Nadler
Publisher: University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL

 

There is currently a major retrospective of the works of Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston. Rembrandt, who was born in 1606 in Leiden, the Netherlands, became one of the most prolific painters of all time.

Rembrandt, who is particularly known for his psychological insight, worked in many media, including oils, charcoal, and, famously, in copperplate etchings from which he “pulled” numerous prints in various editions. He experimented with colors, chiaroscuro (light and shade), pigments and artistic materials.

Moving his artist’s atelier and workrooms from Leiden to Amsterdam was particularly propitious, both for his own livelihood and for his many new patrons – and willing subjects – Amsterdam’s Jewish community. In this book Mr. Nadler provides not merely some biography of the artist, who is called the “Master of Masters,” but quite a bit of history of the Amsterdam kehilla and some of its members who were among Rembrandt’s subjects and patrons.

Seventeenth-century Amsterdam must have been an exciting place to live and work in. Located at the center of several trade routes, and with a very liberal attitude among its ruling elite, it became a magnet for Jews who were escaping persecution from Germany, Poland and Russia to the east and from the Iberian Peninsula to the south. As was the case in America, the Spanish and Portuguese conversos and other Sephardic Jews were the first to arrive, followed by their Ashkenazic brethren in later years.

Rembrandt established his atelier in the home he purchased at No. 4 Breestraat, which is now a museum incorporating many extant examples of his work. Within short walking distance are the Portuguese (Sephardic) and Ashkenazic synagogues, at which many of his subjects and patrons attended religious services.

Why were they such willing subjects and such avid patrons? According to Nadler, a “great and abiding fiction about Judaism is… wholesale rejection of visual arts,” that we don’t issue or collect representational art of people, animals or nature (i.e., landscapes). This is based on a literal interpretation of the second commandment, forbidding “graven images.”

Nadler points out this fallacy, and at least partly attributes the patronage of Amsterdam’s Jewish community to their need for “public relations” to demonstrate their arrival and success as a community, and their need to memorialize their lifestyle and momentous occasions. Remember – they didn’t have cameras. Many attribute the prominence of Jewish artists and collectors in abstract art to this cause. The Jewish community in Amsterdam and in the Netherlands in general achieved much success, and the art of Rembrandt and other artists of his time served to demonstrate their achievements.

Rembrandt is depicted as the only artist of his time who accurately included Hebrew phrases – in Hebrew – in various works. It is said that he studied Hebrew while a student at the University of Leiden, and that his portrait subject and patron, Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel, and others assisted him in accurately representing the Hebrew text exactly as it appeared in the siddur. Most other artists of his time merely “scribbled” lines of hieroglyphics as representational of Hebrew in their own works.

Professor Nadler is director of the Moses/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and is also the author of Spinoza: A Life, for which he was awarded the Year 2000 Koret Jewish Book Award for biography, as well as other titles. Although the present book is also quite nuanced with art history and historical biography, Nadler covers a lot of ground in a succinct, very readable, style. He touches on economics, geography, architecture and ethnography of the Jewish communities of the time. This thin volume (6×9 quarto, less than 250 pages, with index and chapter endnotes) packs in as much
information as a textbook, with the readability of a novel. This difficult-to-categorize book can even have its place as a Baedeker – a travel guide – the next time you make the “Grand Tour” and visit the artist’s studios and the synagogues and former Jewish residences in Amsterdam.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Title: Rembrandt’s Jews”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Israel Envisions Regional Cooperation with Arab Nations
Latest Sections Stories

How is it possible that some of our people cannot see what I see, the miracle of the existence of the state of Israel?

Road sign in Russian and Yiddish greeting visitors on the road just outside Birobidzhan. (photo by Ben G. Frank)

Birobidzhan railway station sign is the world’s only one spelling the town’s name in Yiddish letters

Ayelet Shaked

She’s seen as a poster child for The Jewish Home’s efforts to reach beyond its Orthodox base.

Girls don’t usually learn Gemara. Everyone knows that.

Mordechai and his men shared a strong mutual loyalty.

“Can I wear tefillin in the bathroom?” That was the question US Private Nuchim Lebensohn wrote to Mike Tress, president of the Agudath Israel Youth Council, in a letter dated November 18, 1942. Lebensohn was not your typical young American GI. Polish by birth, he was forty-three years old and married when he was drafted […]

To what extent is your child displaying defiance?

This therapist kept focusing on how “I could do better,” never on how we could make the marriage work.

Mistrust that has lingered after the fiasco in Ferguson, Missouri, has edged the issue forward.

“The observance of a kosher diet is a key tenet of Judaism, and one which no state has the right to deny,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union.

Two weeks of intense learning in the classroom about Israel culminated with Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Students attended sessions with their teachers and learned about history, culture, military power, advocacy, slang, cooking, and more.

The nations of the world left the vessel to sit rotting in the water during one of the coldest winters in decades and with its starving and freezing passengers abandoned.

More Articles from Aharon Ben Anshel
book-Lincoln

It’s almost pointless to try to summarize all of the fascinating information that Holzer’s research unearthed.

book-disambiguation

While still a student in a small Midwest college she learns that her aunt in New York has passed away, resulting in her life turning topsy turvy.

Goldsmith himself went on his own “voyage of discovery” to the places where his grandfather and uncle landed and were sent.

Green was an American volunteer in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, but something happened In Israel that has haunted him ever since.

Witnessed by Theodore Herzl, who was a journalist for a Viennese newspaper covering the trial, the cause célèbre became the spark that eventually caused the rise of the State of Israel in modern times.

These eleven nursing home residents and their accompanying staff from the Connecticut nursing home could represent any of us or our own loved ones…

There are three kinds of travelers: there are tourists, there are businesspeople, and then there are historians like Ben G. Frank.

The last kind doesn’t simply go from here to there. They try to relive history and find the real meaning behind what they experience.

Behind “the news” there’s almost always a story that isn’t being reported, and certain kinds of phenomenon occur almost simultaneously all over the world in almost every era.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-rembrandts-jews/2004/02/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: